Home inContext Yemeni Conflict Leads to New Humanitarian Crisis

Yemeni Conflict Leads to New Humanitarian Crisis

Michael Johnson

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released a report earlier this week highlighting the worsening plight of civilians caught between the Saudi military and Houthis fighters in Yemen. Following their first visits to remote parts of the country during a now-expired five-day ceasefire, aid officials have expressed dismay at the living conditions facing many Yemeni families.

According to figures released by the UN, more than 545,000 people are estimated to be displaced as a result of the fighting. Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign has dramatically increased the death toll, which officials believe to be approximately 1,850, with another 7,400 people wounded.

A truckload full of UNHCR aid in Yemen. (Photo: UNHCR)

During the ceasefire, UNHCR personnel and partner organizations were able to visit 40 different neighborhoods across 11 provinces, including Sana’a and the port city of Aden. Six planeloads of aid were delivered to Sana’a airport and distributed to displaced people in previously hard-to-reach areas before the humanitarian pause ended on Sunday night.

Yemen has long been one of the poorest countries in the Middle East, and since the fighting began in April, important roads and infrastructure have been destroyed. Restrictions on the country’s import of fuel to slow the Houthis’ advance have hurt the local economies. “Ninety-five percent of shops are closed, there is very little movement because of the shortages of fuel,” said a UNHCR spokesman on Tuesday. Locals report that water and electricity are also in short supply, and that many families have been forced to relocate away from damaged homes and buildings.

While International aid organizations and NGOs attempt to contain the destruction in Yemen, analysts have already begun comparing the country’s precarious humanitarian situation to Syria. Since fighting broke out in that country in 2011, over 7.6 million residents have been displaced internally with almost 4 million sheltering in neighboring nations. Large flows of refugees have caused regional instability, a strain on relief agencies, and the rise of a lost generation of  children – dire trends that could repeat due to another Sunni-Shiite conflict, this time on the Arabian Peninsula.