By Ishaan Horwith, age 13
The humanitarian crisis in Yemen, a country already devastated by an ongoing civil war, has worsened dramatically since the coronavirus pandemic broke out, increasing the demand for aid and crippling an already struggling healthcare system.
After years of war, Yemen’s healthcare system is incapable of coping with a pandemic. Only half of all medical facilities in Yemen are functional, and existing ones are at risk of being overrun or destroyed by airstrikes. Doctors and medical personnel are also at risk since they lack basic PPE (personal protection equipment) such as masks, face shields, gloves and gowns.
Yemen was already a failing nation before COVID-19 due to a civil war that began in 2015 between rival religious sects. These were mainly led by the Sunni Muslim government to oppress Shia Muslims, sparking many Shias to fight back against the government and to form a group called the Houthi rebels.
The Houthi rebels claim their fight is one for equality and freedom, and that the government had been mistreating and oppressing them for years. However, many neighboring countries see this issue as a “cold war” between the most powerful countries in the Middle East: Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Saudi Arabia has a majority Sunni Muslim population and therefore supports the Yemeni government. Whereas Iran, a majority Shia Muslim population, supports the Houthi rebels.
The U.S. plays an indirect role in this civil war, as well, as it provides many of the weapons used by the Saudis to attack the Houthis. The State Department approved the sale of an estimated $670 million in anti-tank missiles to Saudi Arabia in 2018 alone, according to the New York Times. Some of the weapons include cluster bombs, banned by most countries, and F-15 fighter planes, which have been used in airstrikes on Yemen.
The strains of this war have devastated Yemenis. In a country of nearly 29 million people, over 75% percent of the population, about 24 million people, are in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the Global Conflict Tracker. About 16 million people don’t have reliable access to water or food, over 1 million Yemenis suffer from cholera, and almost 3 million Yemenis are displaced. “The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project estimated in June 2019 that the number of deaths as a result of the fighting might be as high as 100,000,” according to David Chrisinger on the War Horse. Reuters reports that children also face extreme hardship, as an estimated 85,000 children under 5 years old may have died from extreme hunger since 2015 with the Saudi-led coalition intervening in the civil war.
Despite this, in April, the Trump administration vetoed a resolution that would end the military support for Saudi-led war in Yemen. It was the second veto of Trump’s presidency and was upheld the following month by the Republican-controlled Senate.
“We’ve been materially assisting a foreign power in its efforts to bomb its adversaries. And sometimes helping that foreign power to bomb innocent civilians on the ground in the process,” said Utah Senator Mike Lee, a co-sponsor of the resolution, before the vote took place.
For a country already unable to access proper healthcare, sanitation and clean water, all of which are crucial elements that prevent COVID-19 from spreading, Yemeni deaths are estimated to increase, with many experts and aid workers fearing for the future of Yemen.