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Yemeni Crisis: Political Instability, Civil War, Water Crisis and Outbreak of Cholera

Yemen Crisis: Political Instability, Civil War, Water Crisis and Outbreak of Cholera

Yemen is at present bruised because of ongoing political instability, civil war, water crisis and Malaria. The conflict has its roots in the failure of a political transition supposed to bring stability to Yemen following an Arab Spring uprising that forced its longtime authoritarian president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to hand over power to his deputy Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, in 2011. President Hadi struggled to deal with a variety of problems, including attacks by al-Qaeda, a separatist movement in the south, the continuing loyalty of many military officers to Mr Saleh, as well as corruption, unemployment and food insecurity. The Houthis and security forces loyal to Mr Saleh – who is thought to have backed his erstwhile enemies in a bid to regain power – then attempted to take control of the entire country, forcing Mr Hadi to flee abroad in March 2015. Alarmed by the rise of a group they believed to be backed militarily by regional Shia power Iran, Saudi Arabia and eight other mostly Sunni Arab states began an air campaign aimed at restoring Mr Hadi’s government. The coalition received logistical and intelligence support from the US, UK and France.

The Yemeni Crisis began with the 2011–12 revolution against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had led Yemen for more than two decades. After protests Saleh resigned in 2012, the government led by Saleh’s former vice president, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi struggled to unite the fractious political landscape of the country and fend off threats both from Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Houthi militants that had been waging a protracted insurgency in the north for years. Political instability and civil war have continued since 2012 and it still continues unabated.


Yemen started simmering after Arab Spring broke in Tunisia. The wave of protests arrived soon in Yemen after the Tunisian Revolution. Yemen was a poor country with a government widely acknowledged to be corrupt, with a large number of weapons in private hands. By 2011, the country was already facing challenges from al Qaeda-linked militants and separatists in the south and Zaydi Shia rebels in the north. Yemen had only been unified since 1990, and deep divisions persisted between the north and south. Popular protests broke out in early 2011, led by both secular and Islamist opposition groups. Longtime rebel groups like the Houthis and the Southern Movement also participated in the protests. Saleh responded with a violent crackdown, and the country nearly disintegrated into an all-out civil war as several army elements broke with the government and joined the protesters, beginning in March. Saleh quit after arbitration of the Gulf Co-operation Council. As part of the deal, the opposition agreed to allow Hadi to stand unopposed for the presidency in 2012.

Houthi fighters’ assault and political instability

In 2014, Houthi fighters swept into the capital of Sana’a and forced Hadi to negotiate a “unity government” with other political factions. The rebels continued to apply pressure on the weakened government until, after his presidential palace and private residence came under attack from the militant group, Hadi resigned along with his ministers in January 2015. The following month, the Houthis declared themselves in control of the government, dissolving Parliament and installing an interim Revolutionary Committee led by Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, a cousin of Houthi leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi.

Hadi claimed power from exile

It was reported that Hadi had “fled rebel forces in the city of Aden” and subsequently “arrived in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh” as “Saudi authorities began air strikes in Yemen”. Hadi later declared that he remains Yemen’s legitimate president, proclaimed the country’s temporary capital, and called on loyal government officials and members of the military to rally to him.  Civil War subsequently erupted between Hadi’s government and the Houthis. Since 2017 the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) has also fought against the government.

Conflict between Houthis and Salafis continued

Hadi visited the United States, a key overseas ally, in July 2013. The U.S. also lifted a ban on transferring detainees from its Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba to Yemen. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia deported as many as 300,000 to 400,000 Yemeni migrant workers to their home country during 2013, causing an influx of poor, landless Yemenis into northern Yemen. Meanwhile the conflict between Houthis and Salafis continued. In a dramatic turn of events, the rebel Houthis took broad control of northern Yemen, including the capital of Sana’a itself, in 2014. The Houthis achieved victory in Saada when the Yemeni government brokered a deal under which Salafi fighters and their families were evacuated to the neighboring Al Hudaydah Governorate. Fighting in the Amran Governorate intensified during the year, with clashes between Houthis and supporters of the Islamist Islah Party eventually leading to a Houthi takeover of the entire governorate. The conflict later spread to the Sana’a Governorate.

Houthi Coup and UN negotiations

The Houthis began protesting against Hadi’s government to demand concessions in order to resolve a years-long insurgency they had been waging against the Yemeni state in mid-2014. The uprising escalated dramatically as Houthi fighters swept into Sana’a, the capital, and effectively seized control of the city from the Yemeni military within a couple of days in September. The forces of General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmer surrendered to the Houthis after a brief fight. Ali Abdullah Saleh, the former president, was widely suspected of aiding the Houthis behind the scenes and helping pave the way for their takeover.

UN tried to help negotiations between the warring factions. However, its negotiations were fruitless, and a Houthi ultimatum to Yemen’s political factions to find a solution was not met. Later, the Houthis declared themselves in total control of the Yemeni government, dissolving parliament and installing a Revolutionary Committee led by Mohammed Ali al-Houthi to lead the state in an interim capacity. The announcement sparked protests in Sana’a and other cities, especially in the south.

Post-coup developments and combined action against the Houthi Rebels

In 2015 the Houthis established a new government in Sana’a while Hadi retreated with his supporters to Aden, and later Saudi Arabia. The Arab League, led by the Saudis, began a bombing campaign and mobilization of various armed forces in the region for a possible invasion.

Saudi Arabia and several other countries announced (2016) that they had begun military operations in Yemen against Houthi rebels. Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates issued a statement along with Saudi Arabia saying their goal is to “repel Houthi aggression” in Yemen. Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Sudan are also members of the coalition. In addition to airstrikes against targets throughout Yemen, which the General People’s Congress blamed for causing dozens of civilian casualties, Egyptian warships reportedly shelled a Houthi column as it advanced toward Aden and Saudi and Houthi forces traded artillery and rocket fire across the border between Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

The 8 October 2016 attack by the Saudi Arabian-led coalition killed at least 140 people and injured more than 600 in Sana’a. This was one of the single worst death tolls in the two-year war. Saudi Arabia and its allies accepted the internal review’s finding, by the Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT), that the coalition’s bombardment of this funeral ceremony was based on faulty information, i.e., that this was a gathering of armed Houthi leaders.

Water Crisis aggravates the political crisis

Yemen faced severe water crisis in these years. Yemen’s political instability has been partly aggravated by the severe ecological crisis in the country. The average Yemeni has access to only 140 cubic meters of water per year for all uses, (101 gallons per day) while the Middle Eastern average is 1000 m3/yr, and the internationally defined threshold for water stress is 1700 cubic meters per year. Yemen’s groundwater is the main source of water in the country but the water tables have dropped severely leaving the country without a viable source of water. Even before the revolution, Yemen’s water situation had been described as increasingly dire by experts who worried that Yemen would be the “first country to run out of water”. Agriculture in Yemen takes up about 90% of water in Yemen even though it only generates 6% of GDP – however a large portion of Yemenis are dependent on small-scale subsistence agriculture. This water insecurity has a direct impact on political stability. The country’s Interior Ministry has estimated that across the country, water and land related disputes kill 40,000 people a year – more than terrorism.

Malnutrition and hunger in Yemen are the worst outcome of civil war

In Yemen, an estimated 22.2 million people require humanitarian assistance in order to meet their basic needs, including 17.8 million people who require emergency food assistance, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Due to ongoing conflict, Yemen faces the largest food security emergency in the world, according to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET). FEWS NET reports that 3.5 million people across Yemen face Emergency (IPC 4) levels of food insecurity, and famine is possible if food imports drop or conflict further restricts markets and humanitarian access.

In November 2017, a Saudi Arabia-led military coalition of countries involved in the Yemen conflict enacted a blockade of all of Yemen’s ports. While the coalition has since re-opened the ports to humanitarian and commercial shipments, import levels have not returned to pre-blockade levels as of March 2018. Even in the absence of additional disruptions, FEWS NET reports that certain populations face the threat of Catastrophe (IPC 5) conditions in 2018 as vulnerable people exhaust their coping capacities, such as selling assets or incurring debt to buy food, and are unable to access adequate food to meet their basic needs. The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) is a standardized tool that aims to classify the severity and magnitude of food insecurity. The IPC scale, which is comparable across countries, ranges from Minimal (IPC 1) to Famine (IPC 5).

In Fiscal Year (FY) 2018, USAID’s Office of Food for Peace (FFP) has contributed $201 million to date to support UN partners in Yemen, including the UN World Food Program (WFP). WFP targets approximately 7 million severely food-insecure individuals with in-kind food assistance and food vouchers across 20 of Yemen’s 22 governorates. Since the beginning of FY 2017, FFP has supported UN and other non-governmental organization (NGO) implementing partners with more than $550 million in emergency food assistance, including the provision of U.S.-sourced wheat, peas and vegetable oil, locally- and regionally-procured food and food vouchers to Yemen’s most vulnerable populations. FFP support also provides therapeutic nutritional products to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) for the treatment of children suffering from severe acute malnutrition in Yemen. Additionally, FFP supports the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as the lead coordinating body for the cluster of international organizations responding to food insecurity in Yemen

Cholera Epidemic

A severe cholera epidemic had begun in Yemen during the civil war. In July 2017, the United Nations Humanitarian Relief coordinator said that over 320,000 cases had been reported. He also blamed the epidemic on the war and on international forces supporting the combatants. As of October 2017, it was described as already the worst cholera outbreak in recorded history, with over 800,000 cases.

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