As per the 2018 Fragile States Index (FSI), Yemen is the third most fragile country, which was ranked fourth in the previous year. And the question that arises is: are we waiting for the predicament of the Yemenis to get any worse than this? Will the human rights organizations and the international community take urgent steps to end the cycle of violence and deplorable humanitarian crisis?
In December, the UN reported that more than eight million people were on the brink of starvation. And to add this, the humanitarian efforts have been obstructed. Millions of people have been displaced. While the humanitarian cost of the crisis cannot be stressed enough, however, a review of the 2018 FSI indicates the critical need for containing the crisis before it becomes another Syria.
Geographically speaking, Yemen is the second largest country of the Arabian Peninsula that borders with the Red Sea, Oman and Saudi Arabia, yet it is one of the states on the brink of collapse. Despite being a historical trading point, Yemen is one of the underdeveloped states in the region of the Middle East. Has the presence of Bab al-Mandeb and the Red Sea become a curse for the Yemenis?
In order to make sense of the Yemen crisis, it is important to know how it began. The ongoing stage of the crisis can be traced back to the polity of Yemen which incurred the impact of the Arab Spring in 2011. Broadly, the power shift from longtime President of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh to the deputy Abrabbuah Mansour Hadi is viewed as one of the causes of deepening instability in Yemen.
For many, the pressure in Yemen built up against the incumbent President, who had been in power for more than twenty years. Consequently, in 2012 Saleh was forced to resign in 2012, and a new government was formed by Vice President Hadi. The resistance by the Houthis, however, aggravated the security landscape in addition to the presence of the non-state actors as well as drawbacks on the part of the new government.
Internally, the fighting is mainly divided between the two parties: the Houthi rebels and the government. However, the role of the United States, United Kingdom, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as well as Iran at international and regional levels cannot be ignored. The arms supplies by the UK, Iran and, Saudi Arabia into Yemen have also been reported by many sources. The crisis in Yemen entered a crucial phase in 2015 with the active support of the US for the Saudi-led coalition and the missile attacks by the Houthis. Initially, the Saudi-led coalition claimed to target the Soviet-era weapons; however, the increasing civilian death toll puts a question mark on the official stance of the parties, the Houthis and the Saudi coalition, to put it bluntly.
Even though the statement of the US Secretary of State on the Iranian role is important, as it explicitly criticized the Iranian support of the proxy and militia forces in the Middle East, however, it has not accelerated the peace efforts in Yemen. Should it not be considered a bleak sign for the future of Yemen? Is it not a matter of concern for the advocates of peace and stability in the Middle East?
While the significance of the geo-strategically important trade points in Yemen is associated with the Ottoman influence as well as Turkey, however, it does not mean Ankara can play a role to resolve the conflict. A pertinent question to ask is: Did the Ankara play a constructive role in Syria or has it aggravated the crisis? So, what will make Ankara a feasible actor for mediating or ending the conflict? More so, Turkey’s attempt to expand the influence in Yemen received a major blow in 2014, when the Houthi forces took control of the capital Sana’a.
Besides the generally underlined sectarian politics, the water scarcity marred the Yemenis prior to the conflict. The scarcity issue is often not highlighted which has reached a perilous scale. The level of groundwater has been reduced to such an extent that the process of managing it will be difficult. More than one million people lack the access to clean water. Similarly, unrelenting destruction of infrastructure damaged the sewage system. This has, in turn, contributed to the epidemic of cholera. Approximately one million Yemenis got affected by Cholera last year. Hence, there is a need to underscore the humanitarian cost of the conflict rather than viewing it strictly from the point of view of the rivalry between the Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Taking into account the systematic destruction of the infrastructure in Yemen, Cholera outbreak as well as the myriad of challenges to the human security, it is imperative to contain the Yemeni crisis as well as regional turmoil.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy and position of Regional Rapport.
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Iqra Mobeen Akram is Assistant Research Officer at Islamabad Policy Research Institute. Her areas of interest are Politics of Middle East, Foreign Policy Analysis, and Theories of International Relations.