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Yemen Humanitarian Crisis: Piercing the veil behind battleground Middle-East

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By Gaurav Sharma

What was once the Happy Arabia (Arabia Felix) has now transformed into a ghastly war-zone. Caught in the crossfire of power grab, the Middle Eastern nation of Yemen has been ravaged by a series of humanitarian crisis since the past decade.

Photo Credit: travel.nationalgeographic.com
Photo Credit: travel.nationalgeographic.com

Soaring unemployment, declining oil prices and water resources, apart from being the favorite hunting ground for al-Qaeda’s most vicious branch (AQAP) have metamorphosed Yemen into the poorest nation in the Middle East.

At the same time, a raging battle from multitudinal sides has wreaked havoc in Yemen, tearing it further apart into ever smaller factions.

According to UN reports, more than 1500 people have been killed in the burgeoning humanitarian crisis and almost 1 million persons have been displaced during the pitched conflict.

What is the war all about?

The conflagration of violence is a fight between the supporters of the current leadership of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and loyalists of the Zaidi Shia rebels, popularly known as the Houthis.

President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. Photo Credit: ewn.co.za
President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. Photo Credit: ewn.co.za

Loyalties have been sharply divided between the two forces. While the Sunni south region (particularly the tribesmen and militias) pledges allegiance to President Hadi, other units including ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a popular but polarizing figure in Yemen, vouch for the Houthis.

The battle is not just two-sided. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a deadly faction of the global terror group, assumes command in the south and the south-eastern regions of Yemen. It has launched several attacks including on several mosques apart from planning and undertaking the Charlie Hebdo shootings in France.

To make the grim situation more complex, Islamic State, the most barbarous of all al-Qaeda offshoots, has launched its own string of attacks against Shia Houthis. The terror outfit has warned that these attacks “are only a part of the impending flood”, highlighting the ethereal state of affairs in the country.

What about the rest of the Middle East?

The current restiveness in Yemen has implications for the rest of the middle east. Saudi Arabia, the largest Arab nation in Western Asia, has already launched widespread air strikes against the Houthis in view of the precarious situation.

Mideast-Yemen_Beau-1024x683In this regard, the conflict assumes a sectarian character. Saudi Arabia is a Sunni Muslim nation whereas the Houthis are predominately Shias. After the Houthis swept the capital city of Sanaa in 2014, Saudi Arabia, other Gulf states, and African nations including Jordan, Morocco, Sudan, and Egypt became wary of the potential rise of Shia Islam in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Moreover, in light of the boost received by Iran through the nuclear deal, the Gulf states suspect the hand of Iran behind the sudden rise of Houthis. (Iran is a Shia dominated country)

Growing more and more circumspect with the rise in Iranian ‘proxies’, the Saudi palace organized a 10-nation coalition to check the rise of Houthis and restore power in the hands of its ally, former President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.

The reason for declaring war on the Houthi rebels in Yemen follows from the contention that Iran is looking to expand its footprint in the Middle East. According to the Arab Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), up to 5,000 Iranian and Iraqi trainers were present in Yemen, before Saudi Arabia launched its offensive.

Are there other reasons for the conflict?

The sectarian hues and ideological differences notwithstanding, strategic considerations assume paramount importance in the battle for Yemen. The Bab al-Mandab strait, a channel between Yemen in the Arabian peninsula and Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, provides a crucial link between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden (a passage through which bulk of the world’s oil shipments pass).

Naturally, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, (along with the rest of the world) suspects a Houthi hijacking of the region, which would severely undermine free passage of goods and services to the other part of the world.

Another unlikely factor which led to the eruption of the political upheaval in Yemen is the dire ecological condition of the region. The groundwater situation has never been handled appropriately by the successive governments.

From 30 meters below surface in 1970’s to more than 1000 meters below surface in 2012, the groundwater condition has only deteriorated. There are reports doing the rounds that Yemen might claim the distinction for being the first country to run out of water. Lack of sufficient water means deficiency of food crops, thereby aggravating the situation further.

In the midst of the arid ecological future awaiting them, the Yemeni people had no option but to flee the country or to fight amongst each other small battles which sometimes, if not more often than not, assume epic proportions.

How did Yemen end up where it is today?

Apart from being a possible location for the Biblical kingdom of Sheba, Yemen acted as a conduit (spice route) to the Middle East for African, Asian nations.

Yemen Conflict. Photo Credit: http://www.newsweek.com
Yemen Conflict. Photo Credit: http://www.newsweek.com

The modern state of Yemen propped-up in 1990, after the unification of the communist south Yemen and the traditional northern region. In 1994, a civil war ensued between the south and the north quelling the southern separatists.

However, in 2009, Shia Houthis and the government troops clashed resulting in the massacre of scores of innocent civilians along with the displacement of thousands. Two years later, at the peak of the Arab Spring, protestors revolted against the more than 30-year-old rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh, resulting in his overthrowing.

During the transformation phase, Yemen became the hotspot for Islamic militants even as the western powers launched a clampdown on al-Qaeda activities in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Houthi rebels used the fragile governance landscape to their advantage and reemerged as the harbingers of revolt.

Next Story

Nothing can Stop Disabled Yemenis Women from Participating in Women’s Wheelchair Basketball

Yemen's Women With Disabilities Seek Inclusion Through Wheelchair Basketball

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YEMEN-BASKETBALL
Disabled Yemeni women take part in a local wheelchair basketball championship in Yemen's capital Sanaa. VOA

By Nisan Ahmado

Living through years of Yemen’s devastating war has been a constant struggle for Afaf Mohammed al-Adwar, who uses a wheelchair because of congenital spinal damage.

But she is now determined to demonstrate her ability to cope by participating in a women’s wheelchair basketball championship.

The 16-year-old sportswoman joined dozens of other girls and women with mobility impairment in a wheelchair basketball tournament that was held in Sanaa this month.

She told VOA that her participation was “the first step” toward showing the plight of Yemen’s women and girls with disabilities during four years of civil war between the government and Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

“We are trying to show people that we are not just disabled, but we are able to do whatever we aspire to,” al-Adwar said.

She said that women and girls with disabilities in Yemen are on the margins of society, excluded from basic humanitarian assistance, while at the same time facing gender-based discrimination.

“The society frowns upon letting girls leave their houses, let alone allowing them to play sports. It was hard for my family at first to let me play, but when they saw me in the games, they started encouraging and supporting me,” she told VOA, adding that she was grateful to be a part of an attempt to change the common mentality of a rather conservative society going through conflict.

Women basketball
Yemeni women are now determined to demonstrate their ability to cope by participating in a women’s wheelchair basketball championship. VOA

Five-team competition

Five teams competed in a weeklong championship that started on December 7 and was sponsored by the Red Cross and other organizations in Yemen working to benefit people with disabilities.

The winners will compete in a regional championship next year in Beirut.

Al-Adwar’s team, al-Tahadi Organization for Supporting Women with Disabilities, came in fourth place and received a special award for their “sport spirit.”

Jihad Hammoud Ahmed Jaber, a spokesperson for the al-Tahadi Organization, told VOA such activities will empower girls and women with disabilities to become active members of their communities. At the same time, they will help change societal perceptions by creating a more inclusive atmosphere for everyone.

“The goal of having a women’s basketball championship was to make the women get out from their isolation, especially amid the ongoing war in the country,” Jaber said. “Those who didn’t allow their daughters to play a sport, we wanted to show them how this can help their daughters physically and mentally and how it can give their daughters strength and empowerment.”

The conflict in Yemen escalated after Iran-backed Houthis overran Sanaa in September 2014. In 2015, the conflict turned into a proxy war when an international coalition led by Saudi Arabia launched a military and economic campaign against the Houthis.

The United Nations calls the situation in Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. It has warned that people with disabilities are the country’s most vulnerable, facing immense hardship to get much medical aid or to move from battlefield zones to safer refuges.

Most excluded 

Rights group Amnesty International estimates that the devastating conflict has left 4.5 million Yemenis, or 15% of the country’s population, with some form of disability.  In a 50-page report published this month, the organization concluded that the conflict has limited health services for Yemenis with disabilities and taken away their rights to education and employment opportunities, while adding risks from violence and living in displacement.

It said some people with disabilities were separated from their families and left behind as people fled war “because the trip was too difficult for the person with a disability to undertake.”

Also Read- 2019 Was a Year of Climate Change Activism

“Yemen’s war has been characterized by unlawful bombings, displacement and a dearth of basic services, leaving many struggling to survive. The humanitarian response is overstretched, but people with disabilities — who are already among those most at risk in armed conflict — should not face even greater challenges in accessing essential aid,” said Rawya Rageh, the group’s crisis adviser.  (VOA)