April 23, 2018

IntelBrief: Yemen Continues to Spiral 

A boy rinses a bucket as he and others collect water from a well that is allegedly contaminated with cholera bacteria, on the outskirts of Sanaa, Yemen. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed, File).
  • On April 21, a humanitarian aid worker for the ICRC, Hanna Lahoud, was murdered in Taizz, Yemen.
  • The ICRC and other aid groups are struggling to deal with a rising multi-front disaster fueled by the ongoing war, with little hope of progress on any front.
  • On April 3, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres called Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, with 22 million people needing medical, food, and security assistance.
  • Aid organizations are trying to operate in the midst of persistent global conflicts; they are now being deliberately targeted.


As the war inside the country rages on, Yemen continues toward economic, political, and social collapse.The conflict between the Saudi-led coalition against the Iran-supported Houthi rebels has been a quagmire for several years, and a worsening daily horror for Yemeni civilians—and the aid groups trying to provide assistance in the middle of a war zone. Were the war to end tomorrow, it would take years to rebuild what has been lost materially and to regain a semblance of social cohesion.

The war will not end tomorrow, and the situation in Yemen will continue to grow worse. What U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres called, during an April 3 conference in Geneva, ‘the world’s worst humanitarian crisis,’ will continue until there is sufficient international pressure for an equitable, negotiated resolution. The war is no longer considered just a Yemeni affair, but rather an active front in the power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran. While there has been political fervor in both the U.S. and the U.K. to stop, modify, or even just clearly justify their military support to the Saudi-led coalition, there has been no change in either government’s policies or actions.

While the governments of regional and global powers have been uninterested or unsuccessful in applying pressure to resolve the Yemeni conflict, international aid organizations are dealing each day with the consequences of the crisis. Yemen is a humanitarian disaster on multiple fronts: disease, famine, displacement, and death. Both disease and famine have been exacerbated by a Saudi-led blockade of goods and services, eased somewhat in late 2017, but still causing deleterious effects. The Saudi-led coalition says the blockade is needed to prevent Iran from smuggling heavy weapons and missiles to the Houthi rebels. This is true; there have been several instances of ships stopped approaching Yemen with weapon stockpiles on board. Yet the humanitarian consequences of the blockade far outweigh any military benefit; shortages of fuel, medicine, and food have left 22 million people in need of food, medical care, and fuel.

On April 21, an aid worker for the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) was gunned down while in a car traveling in Taizz, a city in southwestern Yemen. Hanna Lahoud was the ICRC’s staffer in charge of Yemen’s detention facilities. He was murdered while on his way to visit a prison. By definition, groups such as the ICRC deal in dangerous environments, but in recent years their terrain has gotten more dangerous; the sign of the red cross or the red crescent now invites targeting. In Syria, aid workers and hospitals have been repeatedly targeted. The same is true in Afghanistan. Aid organizations play an outsized role in Yemen because there is so much need, yet so much less actually funded and implemented compared to places like Afghanistan. What little medical infrastructure exists for the Yemeni people is being destroyed in airstrikes further exacerbating the medical crisis. The targeting of aid workers, which can lead to the removal of aid organizations in a country, only compounds the danger to civilians caught in the crosshairs of conflicts.


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