The Platform

Photo illustration by John Lyman

Things look pretty bleak for Yemen but the country’s future isn’t set in stone.

The conflict in Yemen extends beyond political governance which has repeatedly failed the Yemeni people. Yemen is susceptible to natural disasters such as flooding and landslides, which occur from the surrounding mountains to urban cities in the valleys. Moreover, the country has already been weakened by decades of dictatorship followed by a bloody armed conflict.

Yemen’s economy, social fabric, education, public health, infrastructure, security, social justice, and environment have lagged behind in the development race. In fact, these factors were the root causes of the 2011 uprising. While the Yemeni people hoped for a better life under a democratic system, they were shocked to see the legitimate government ousted and the country fall under Houthi militias. Coalition forces fought against the Houthis in southern Yemen, resulting in a liberated region with the capital in Aden, governed by the Southern Transitional Council.

Similar to many Arab countries in the Middle East, Yemen relies heavily on central government institutions to provide public services in the aforementioned pillars. It’s worth noting that Yemen’s major resources come from its southern provinces, which serve as key ports of entry for sea shipments, in addition to oil resources. The following narrative will focus on some key challenges and how they intersect with the environment, economy, refugees, human security, and public health.

During Yemen’s ongoing conflict, the country’s infrastructure, such as water pipes and sewage systems, began to crumble due to neglect. The lack of services to address this issue led to filthy water spreading throughout residential and public areas, causing a public health crisis, particularly among children, and resulting in fatal diseases that claimed many lives.

The situation worsened when refugees who had sought shelter, were asked to evacuate. These refugees built their own temporary shelters without coordinating with local authorities. Understandably, in the absence of any actual authority, having a roof over their heads became an absolute necessity. However, these shelters were constructed in areas prone to flooding.

In 2019, Aden was flooded, and heavy landslides occurred washing away many of these shelters. This preventable natural disaster resulted in many deaths and extensive damage to homes and properties. Numerous families became homeless, adding to the number of refugees. In the absence of a functional government due to political divisions, the Yemeni people tried to work locally by mobilizing youth to salvage whatever they could, while local NGOs and private individuals contributed to supporting families who had lost their homes.

The conflict in Yemen has caused one of the most severe humanitarian crises in the world. The division between the north, under Houthi control, and the south, under government control, has led to a rapid devaluation of the currency. The divided country now has two different currencies, neither of which holds any real value. The legitimate government has been unable to pay salaries due to a high budget deficit.

Furthermore, the country faces sanctions that burden merchants and the Yemeni people, who have to pay exorbitant prices for food if they can find any in the local markets. Shipments to Yemen are also subject to clearance before reaching the country. The customs process is generally dysfunctional and imposes undocumented fees on merchandise to allow entry into Yemen. When the coalition stopped paying salaries to armed groups, these groups began setting up random checkpoints and imposing additional fees on trucks carrying food and supplies. The economy’s deterioration is an understatement, resulting in immense challenges to people’s lives.

The war in Yemen has caused significant displacement of civilians, and they have been forced to coexist with host communities that were already living in dire circumstances due to poverty, long hours of power cuts, and a lack of clean water. The conflict and competition for resources have bred violence within communities and even households.

Refugees have received some humanitarian assistance, primarily focused on food assistance, but it has been insufficient to meet their needs. One major challenge for host communities is that many refugees, who lost their homes due to fighting, or flooding, have occupied schools. The government has not provided assistance, and the schools have become residences for families instead of educational facilities for children.

With the absence of government institutions, particularly formal security agencies, and the proliferation of armed groups affiliated with various political factions and regional forces, civilians have become easy targets. Most of these armed groups were recruited to fight for a monthly payment, but they were not adequately trained to protect civilians. The members of these groups are predominantly unemployed youth who needed to provide for their families, leaving them with no choice but to pick up arms. Lack of training and respect for human rights have resulted in human rights violations. These armed groups even disregard court orders and perpetuate injustices, not to mention the intimidation of civilians and exploitation of child soldiers. Yemen is a complex disaster in every aspect.

The health sector in Yemen is extremely vulnerable. Even before the pandemic, often curable diseases overwhelmed hospitals and health clinics. With ongoing sanctions, war, and natural disasters, the health sector has deteriorated due to poor facilities, lack of supplies, looting of medical equipment, and underpaid or unpaid staff. The pandemic further worsened the situation, with the health sector lacking the ability and capacity to treat people. The international community intervened by providing protective gear and testing kits, but it was not enough to contain the public health crisis.

Yemen is by all accounts a failed state. The damages to the country have been severe and have already occurred. However, the country could greatly benefit from local support programs while political conflicts are mitigated at a higher level. While most of these risks require a top-down approach, a bottom-up approach seems feasible. Local communities possess bonding values and a large number of young people eager to be trained and invested in shaping Yemen’s future.

Raghad Al Saadi is an expert on human rights law, counterterrorism, international humanitarian law, international refugee law, women, peace and security, humanitarian assistance, peace negotiations, conflict related GBV and the rule of law. In her professional capacity, Raghad has worked with the UNOCHA-Turkey as a humanitarian access consultant on the Syrian conflict; developed strategic planning for the Ministry of Justice in Libya; a former Congressional Fellow in Washington, DC; a Board Member at Schar School of Policy and Government Alumni Leadership Chapter; a Delegate at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum (NPPF) in 2017; and a speaker at the Initiatives of Change (IofC) in Caux, Switzerland. Raghad was also a panelist at the Global Policy Dialogue on WPS in Doha, Qatar and a selected expert on climate conflict and security at the Paris Peace Forum. Ms. Al Saadi holds a Master of Laws (LLM) in Human Rights Law from Oxford Brookes University, School of Law, Oxford, UK, and a M.S. in Peace Operations Policy—Schar School of Policy and Government, GMU. Ms. Al Saadi is a publisher at IEEE-Global Humanitarian Technology Conference, and International Policy Digest.