“Every ten minutes, a child under five dies of preventable causes,” the Secretary-General of the United Nations observed, adding that “nearly 3 million children under 5 and pregnant or lactating women are acutely malnourished. Nearly half of all children aged between six months and 5 years old are chronically malnourished and suffer from stunting, which causes development delays and reduced ability to learn throughout their entire lives.”

Known as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the Yemen Civil War seems to have no end in sight. Despite it being viewed by some as a small internal conflict, it plays a larger role on the global scale by being a proxy war between the two most powerful countries in the Middle East. Because of this rivalry, there has been little progress towards ending the fighting as both Iran and Saudi Arabia want a stronger influence in this region.   

The civil war has cost Yemen $14 billion in damages ranging from infrastructure to economic losses. The death toll has risen 164% in the past four months alone. The conflict has only continued to worsen since the beginning of the war as Yemen has become a prominent battleground in the Middle East.

The Yemen War is causing a massive humanitarian crisis that cannot be solved unless the neighboring countries exerting their influence in the region withdraw their support for each fighting group. There must be a neutral third party to negotiate the peace terms to ensure that neither side is being taken advantage of. If not, there will be millions of more innocent civilians who deal with the consequences and the instability will provide an opportunity for terrorist organizations to grow.

A Repeat of History

This is not the first civil war Yemen has been involved in. As the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union began to collapse, Northern Yemen and Southern Yemen reunited after being divided into an Islamic and socialist nation, respectively, in 1990. The former President of Northern Yemen took control and the former President of Southern Yemen became Vice President.

When the Yemeni government decided to stand against intervention during the Gulf War, it encouraged other Western and Arab countries to withdraw their financial support, leading to Vice President Al-Baid’s decision to attempt to gain independence for Southern Yemen. However, the North won the war and removed Al-Baid from power. In 1994, an accord was signed between the northern and southern leaders to officially end the war.

The civil war, however, gave an opportunity for a new wave of migrants, specifically jihadists. While the Northern government utilized many of these jihadists groups to attack Southern Yemen, once the war was over, these groups turned their attacks towards loyalist and American forces. This included attacking the USS Cole in 2000, which killed seventeen American sailors. In 2003, ten suspects involved in the USS Cole bombing escaped prison, causing tensions between US-backed Yemeni security forces and Al Qaeda militants to escalate. This culminated in the foundation of AQAP in 2009.

In 2011, the Arab Spring protests spread to the streets of Yemen. As people protested corruption, lower unemployment, and for a healthier economy, President Saleh was forced to step down and was replaced by his Vice President, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. Hadi promised a new democracy, yet after struggling with failed reforms for two years, the Houthis, a minority Shia group, took power and initiated the Yemen Civil War in 2015.

Figure 1: Public protests against President Saleh during the Arab Spring period

Source: University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign

Global Powers Involved and Humanitarian Crisis

In 2016, Saudi Arabia accused Iran, a Shiite country, of supporting the Houthi rebels, leading to their involvement in the war. Not only did they provide help to the Yemeni government to prevent Iran’s attempt of power expansion, but they also wanted to ensure they had access to the Bab El Mandeb Strait because of its importance for trade. Saudi Arabia formed a coalition with eight other Sunni countries and began an air campaign to restore the Hadi administration back into power. The U.S. also provided logistical and intelligence support to Saudi Arabia.

As the Saudi-led coalition began to launch airstrikes on strategic areas, the UN imposed an embargo on selling arms to the Houthi rebels. The coalition was more prepared and began to take control over more land, but their lack of experience resulted in many defeats. After realizing their inability to win on land, the Saudi coalition escalated their airstrikes, wounding the civilian population in the process. The coalition then ordered an embargo on ports and airports controlled by the Houthis, making it impossible for the majority of the Yemeni population to receive adequate care. The only shipments allowed were aid, but this was not enough to stop the growing humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

Over 20 million Yemenis need immediate humanitarian relief and 2 million have been forced to flee from their home. Children are being recruited as child soldiers. Landmines are killing hundreds of citizens, and there isn’t enough trained personnel that can successfully remove them. Nearly one million people are suspected to have cholera. This war is causing a mass and unrecognized humanitarian crisis that cannot be solved in the state the country is in right now.

Figure 2: United Nations Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights Report on the international laws broken in Yemen since 2014

Source: UNHCR

The United Nations condemned these airstrikes and attempted to set-up a meeting for peace talks which ultimately failed. In 2017, Saleh tried to cut ties with the Houthis to have diplomatic talks with Saudi Arabia, which led to his assassination a couple days later.

With all the chaos because of the war, AQAP has been able to strengthen their power in the region. AQAP’s funding has increased, they’re forming better relationships with local Yemeni tribes, and they’re improving their intelligence and counterintelligence abilities.

Peace Talks, Humanitarian Aid, and Counterterrorism

The most important first step towards ending the conflict in Yemen is by negotiating peace talks between the parties involved in the fighting. Before the talks can occur, however, all parties must agree to an immediate ceasefire to ensure no other lives will be harmed in the fighting. By having a neutral third party, such as Oman, organize the talks, there will be motivation from all sides to participate as it won’t be a biased discussion, only focusing on benefitting one country. Oman has remained impartial in the Yemen War by not joining the Saudi-led coalition as well as not helping Iran. It is neither a Sunni or Shia country, and its location neighboring the conflict gives it a geopolitical advantage to host the peace talks over other neutral parties.

One main part of the treaty must include the transfer of control regarding the Houthi-held port of Hodeida, which flows 70% of Yemen’s food and aid supplies. As the Yemeni Government and the rebels continue to use blockage of supplies as a weapon, the ports should be regulated by the United Nations to ensure there will be no more human rights abuses due to lack of resources for the civilian population. The UN would be in charge of inspecting imports and exports, while also making sure that aid sent through the port is delivered in a timely manner to ensure that the civilians are being supported through this crisis. The Houthis have stated their openness to this idea if it will bring Saudi Arabia and the Yemeni government to the negotiation table.

However, it is still improbable that a peace treaty will be able to occur if Saudi Arabia and Iran are not willing to stop exerting its influence in the area. Although both of these regions prioritize their need for control over the Middle East, they are both losing money on a war that has no end in sight. Saudi Arabia spends $5-6 billion a month in Yemen, while Iran spends a couple million. If this war continues, both countries will be amplifying the amount of money spent on a region that is a lost cause for each side.

Next, there needs to be a strong focus on rebuilding Yemen to ensure their civilians are able to survive as well as decrease AQAP’s influence in the region. With the end of the war, the Yemeni government will finally be able to focus on AQAP. It has been easier for the organization to grow due to the lack of a governmental structure directing control over the region. Because AQAP has focused on building stronger connections with local tribes through public works projects, the UN should create a new international development fund specifically for rebuilding Yemen after the war. This fund should focus on improving infrastructure, concentrating on building more hospitals, schools, and roads. It’s important for those working on these projects in Yemen to grow accustomed to the citizens living there in order to create a sense of community and trust among the local tribes. The UN can also encourage NGOs to set up offices in Yemen after the ceasefire to familiarize the natives with them. By doing so, it will help drive out AQAP since it will provide more stability in the region and remove opportunities for AQAP to continue a relationship with those tribes.


The Yemen Civil War now represents the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, and it is imperative to hold governments accountable for the slaughter of its people. If not, other nations in similar situations will commit the same war crimes if there are no consequences for their actions. This can lead to the death of many more civilians worldwide.

Because of the instability in Yemen, it gives the opportunity for terrorist organizations to gain influence and power, which will only increase their threat to the U.S. and other nations around the world. AQAP has always had a strong influence in this region, and letting the war continue will only be allowing them to grow.

The Middle East is becoming a hotspot for proxy wars and could lead to another major Cold War, except this time it would be between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The world should not have to repeat history to learn the same lessons of the first Cold War. The Yemen War is the world’s chance to stop this from happening.

Featured Image Source: (Khaled Abdullah/Reuters)

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