A continuing tragedy
In 2015, a Saudi led coalition started an intervention campaign in Yemen, as a direct response to the call for aid from the pro-Saudi President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi who was ousted from power by the Houthi movement. Armed with American technology, expertise and logistics, the coalition and its leader Mohammed bin Salman expected a swift, decisive victory over an unorganised and unequipped enemy. Instead, what actually transpired in the botched five years and continuing campaign was one of the worst humanitarian crises in recorded history. Not only did the prolonged conflict cause as many as 100,000 deaths, but it also displaced millions and made 80 per cent of Yemen's population fall into the category of urgently requiring humanitarian aid. Multiple attempts were made to externally negotiate peace and bring an end to the pointless bloodshed but these quickly fizzled out as international and regional politics forced nations to not pursue lasting peace in the region. For the Saudi coalition, it was a matter of political and national pride, a war they must bring to an end. Most external observers have stated that the Saudi coalition is too invested now to back-off without strong external pressure as supposed decisive battles after decisive battles only serve to draw out the stalemate.
In the midst of these battles fought over the smouldering ruins of a nation were the 30 million-strong masses of Yemen who were caught in the crossfire. The Saudi-led airstrikes preferred civilian targets and infrastructure in rebel-controlled areas. Thus, hospitals were bombed, food production centres were bombed, schools, utility buildings, government buildings, etc., were all part of the siege tactics to force the rebels to surrender. One of the basic infrastructures that seemed to have been particularly targeted was the water and waste management systems. Combined with soaring fuel prices, this meant that much of the population of Yemen no longer had ready access to clean and safe drinking water or a working sanitation system. Inevitably, this led to a cholera outbreak that is still continuing and has been called the worst of its kind by the UN with children disproportionately facing the brunt. Alongside a cholera epidemic, the people of Yemen are facing one of the worst water shortage crises with only half of the urban public having access to any kind of government-provided water. Then there is the food crisis. The World Food Programme has noted that despite regular and ongoing humanitarian assistance, over 20 million people in Yemen are food-insecure with 10 million of those suffering from acute food insecurity. Malnutrition rates amongst women and children in Yemen are among the highest in the world with more than a million women and two million children requiring treatment for acute malnutrition. What makes this situation worse is that there has been no clear way out. Vested interests of major and regional powers like the US, Russia and Iran make the Yemen conflict a part of the overall 'Middle-East' conflict. All throughout international and humanitarian bodies have constantly warned of a nation and a people that are being pushed beyond breaking point and the inhumane cruelty of a confused and stilted global response to this tragedy. Now, in the time of COVID-19 where the world is collectively facing a number of crises, the situation in Yemen could not be direr. The WFP has sounded the alarm, asserting in no uncertain terms this week that unless there is urgent course-correction in Yemen, there will be a devastating famine in just a few short months, particularly given that the annual aid that is given to the nation as part of donations is less than half of the usual figure.
Unsurprisingly, the United States is exactly what is required to bring a close to the conflict. It is US technology, expertise and logistics that have driven the coalition's conflict in Yemen (though other world powers have also been complicit). During his tenure, Obama sought to end the supply of precision-guided bombs to the Yemen conflict. This was part of a larger process of US disengagement from the conflict and the region. Trump, however, chose to block and reverse all such efforts as he viewed the war in Yemen as integral to 'profitable' US-Saudi relations and a misguided 'maximum pressure' campaign on Iran. Now, times are changing again. Biden has vowed to end US support of the war in Yemen. Also, unlike Trump, Biden will less likely be inclined to 'look away' on a number of related matters. This, effectively, may provide the Saudi-led coalition with an exit plan that will still save them face while ending a disastrous and inhumane war.