Heavy price of Yemen’s seven-year war: 233,000 dead, 20.7 million displaced and counting

The conflict between the Houthi insurgents and the Saudi-led alliance has caused the world’s worst humanitarian disaster and an economy close to collapse

File photo of armed Yemeni children and fighters loyal to the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in the capital Sanaa. AFP

A new United Nations report has said that the death toll from Yemen’s war will reach 377,000 by the end of 2021.

In its report published on Tuesday, the United Nations Development Programme said that 60 percent of those who died in the war were owing to indirect causes such as hunger and preventable diseases.

The report also estimated that 70 percent of those killed would be children under the age of five.

So, what is the reason for this humanitarian catastrophe and why aren’t more people talking about it.

What’s the conflict all about?

Yemen, one of the Arab world’s poorest countries, has been witnessing civil war since late 2014 when Houthi insurgents — Shia rebels with links to Iran and a history of rising up against the Sunni government — took control of Yemen’s capital and largest city, Sanaa, demanding lower fuel prices and a new government.

Following failed negotiations, the rebels seized the presidential palace in January 2015, leading President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi and his government to resign. Beginning in March 2015, a coalition of Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia launched a campaign of economic isolation and air strikes against the Houthi insurgents, with US logistical and intelligence support.

Hadi rescinded his resignation and returned to Aden in September 2015, and fighting has continued since.

For those who don’t know, Houthis, formerly known as Ansar Allah, have been long fighting for the Zaidi Shia Muslim community.

The United Nations has been trying to bring the two sides to a ceasefire to arrive at a negotiated settlement. But the fighting still has not stopped.

Casualties of war

The UN says the war has resulted in shocking levels of suffering.

As per a UN report of 2020, Yemen conflict had already caused an estimated 233,000 deaths, including 131,000 from indirect causes such as lack of food, health services and infrastructure.

The report adds, “Hostilities have directly caused tens of thousands of civilian casualties; 3,153 child deaths and 5,660 children were verified in the first five years of the conflict, and 1,500 civilian casualties were reported in the first nine months of 2020.”

The fighting has also caused thousands of people to be displaced from their homes. Four million people have been forced to flee their homes and more than 20.7 million — 71 percent of the population — are in need of some form of humanitarian assistance or protection for their survival.

There’s also the fact that an estimated 2.3 million children under the age of five are battling acute malnourishment and images of scrawny children with their bare bones jutting out only highlights the same.

Humanitarian catastrophe

The UN has termed the Yemen conflict as the world’s worst humanitarian disaster and says that there is only more misery in the future if the conflict drags on.

It said that 1.3 million people would die by 2030, and that 70 percent of those deaths would be the result of indirect causes such as loss of livelihoods, rising food prices, and the deterioration of basic services such as health and education.

The report also found that the number of those experiencing malnutrition would surge to 9.2 million by 2030, and the number of people living in extreme poverty would reach 22 million, or 65 percent of the population.

However, the report said that all hope wasn’t lost and if hostilities ended today, extreme poverty could disappear in Yemen by 2047.

Why should the world care?

Other than the humanitarian aspect, the conflict in Yemen is concerning to the world owing to its geographical location. The narrow Bab el-Mandeb passage in Yemen witnesses nearly four million barrels of oil being shipped daily to Europe, United States and Asia.

The Yemen conflict is also of worry to the West because it provides terror groups such as the Al Qaeda and the Islamic State affiliates a fertile ground for recruits and in the recent past, attacks emanating from this area have increased.

The conflict is also a part of a regional power struggle between Shia-ruled Iran and Sunni-led Saudi Arabia.

With inputs from agencies

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