What's Happening In Yemen

Scorecard of Shame

Over 10,000 people have been killed in the past 18 months
At least 1,200 children have been killed and another 1,700 have been injured

21.2 million people require urgent humanitarian assistance, 9.9 million of whom are children. This is Four Fifths of the entire population
3.2 million are internally displaced,
19.3 million in need of health care and protection services
14.1 million are at risk of hunger, equivalent to the combined populations of London, Birmingham and Glasgow.
3 million are now suffering from acute malnutrition

The Current Situation

Military intervention led by Saudi Arabia, backed by the US and Britain, in Yemen marks a new and dangerous stage of its conflict.

The southern separatists of the Hirak movement and al-Qaida fighters, targeted by US drones, are fighting their own separate campaigns. Restless tribes add to a volatile mix. An ominous recent innovation was the claim by Islamic State that it had carried out twin suicide bombings in Sana’a. Central government authority has all but disintegrated.
Saudi air raids, which began on 26 March, have targeted Houthi air and army bases and weapons. But they have also killed dozens of civilians and led to calls for an immediate ceasefire on humanitarian grounds. Hospitals, homes, schools and civilian infrastructure have been hit, as have airports and power stations.

This is the world's largest humanitarian crisis.But not enough people have been talking about it. Since March last year, brutal fighting has spread across almost all of Yemen. A staggering 21 million people are in dire need of humanitarian aid - that's 82% of the population. This has earned Yemen the horrifying status of being the most dangerous place in the world for explosive violence.

Concurrently, a coalition led by Saudi Arabia launched military operations by using airstrikes to restore the former Yemeni government and the United Statesprovided intelligence and logistical support for the campaign. According to the UN, from March 2015 to August 2016, over 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen, including 3,799 civilians

Millions are in need of food aid, and another 21 million people urgently need health services, according to the UN.
Six attempts to clinch a ceasefire in Yemen have failed so far, including a three-day October truce that fell apart as soon as it went into force.
Against this backdrop of continued conflict, Human Rights Watch says the Houthis and other authorities in Sanaa have "arbitrarily detained, tortured and forcibly disappeared" opponents.

How It Started

The conflict has its roots in the failure of the political transition that was supposed to bring stability to Yemen following an uprising that forced its longtime authoritarian president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to hand over power to Mr Hadi, his deputy, in November 2011.
Mr Hadi struggled to deal with a variety of problems, including attacks by al-Qaeda, a separatist movement in the south, the continuing loyalty of many military officers to Mr Saleh, as well as corruption, unemployment and food insecurity.

The Houthi movement, which champions Yemen's Zaidi Shia Muslim minority and fought a series of rebellions against Mr Saleh during the previous decade, took advantage of the new president's weakness by taking control of their northern heartland of Saada province and neighbouring areas.
Disillusioned with the transition, many ordinary Yemenis - including Sunnis - supported the Houthis and in September 2014 they entered the capital, Sanaa, setting up street camps and roadblocks.

In January 2015, the Houthis reinforced their takeover of Sanaa, surrounding the presidential palace and other key points and effectively placing Mr Hadi and his cabinet ministers under house arrest. The president escaped to the southern port city of Aden the following month. The Houthis and security forces loyal to Mr Saleh then attempted to take control of the entire country, forcing Mr Hadi to flee to Saudi Arabia in March 2015.

Alarmed by the rise of a group they believed to be backed militarily by regional Shia power Iran, Saudi Arabia and eight other mostly Sunni Arab states began an air campaign aimed at restoring Mr Hadi's government.


The modern-day Republic of Yemen was formed in 1990, with Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had served as President of North Yemen since 1978, as President. The 2011 revolutions across the Middle East popularly referred to as the ‘Arab Spring’ also took place in Yemen. In February 2011, people demonstrated against President Saleh's government, which had been in power for almost three decades. Accusations highlighted corruption, lack of reform and a poor human rights record.

On 23 November 2011, President Saleh signed the Gulf Cooperation Council Plan for political transition, agreeing to transfer powers held by his office to his deputy, Vice-President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. This followed a lengthy process of negotiations, brokered between April and May 2011 with assistance from Saudi Arabia, the US, the UK and the EU. The role of the UK and particularly International Development Minister Alan Duncan was notable in reaching a positive outcome. The agreement provided a basic framework for early presidential elections followed by constitutional revisions, a constitutional referendum and, eventually, new parliamentary elections.

Nearly a month after Yemen held its 21 February 2012 presidential elections, International Development Minister Alan Duncan referred to a “Yemen Paradox”, since no real changes took place after Saleh’s departure, despite there being a new government. For some analysts, such as Tobias Thiel at the LSE: as the “deal granted former President [Saleh] immunity in exchange for his resignation”, it contained a “fatal flaw: it retired Saleh from the presidency, but not politics.” Saleh remained the chairperson of the General People’s Congress and continued playing what observers described as a “a poisonous role in sabotaging the transition.

The Current Conflict

For more than a year, Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country, has been wracked by a bloody war between the Houthi rebels and supporters of Yemen's internationally recognised government. On the 22nd of March 2015, Saudi Arabia declared a coalition of Sunni-majority Arab states: Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Sudan, and the UAE. (That includes all the Gulf Cooperation Council states except for Oman.) The operation seems to consolidate Saudi Arabia’s leadership over the bloc, which has split over other regional issues, and signals consensus against allowing Iran to gain influence in Yemen. But in practice, only the UAE has played a significant military role, including contributing ground troops that enabled Hadi's return to Aden. Saudi Arabia has led the coalition air campaign to roll back the Houthis and reinstate Hadi’s government. Riyadh perceives that Houthi control of Yemen would mean a hostile neighbour that threatens its southern border.

On 21 April 2015, the Saudi-led war coalition of Arab states announced that “Operation Decisive Storm,” the military campaign against Yemen that started on 25th of March. Operation Decisive Storm is likely to change the political and military dynamics in the Middle East for years to come. The speed at which a ten-country coalition was formed and mobilized is unprecedented in the Arab World. The coalition sent a clear message to many actors regionally and globally, especially those who have doubted Arab unity and decisiveness, that the Arab World is willing and able to control its own destiny, protect its own interests, and prevent the collapse of another Arab state. Operation Decisive Storm put an end to many of these speculations and ushered in a new vision for unity, paving the way for the Arab league to entertain the establishment of a joint Arab Force to deter any future existential threat that may face the region. Operation Decisive Storm came as a result of some Arab countries preferring indigenous solutions to local problems. Historically, Arab countries have relied on Western protection and Western solutions to their domestic problems. Operation Decisive Storm embodies a deviation from the standards used in the past and introduces a genre of action rare in the region. The Yemeni case imposed its own dynamics and ushered in its own principle and likely to be the model of the future.

April 2016 Peace Negotiations

There was hope of a breakthrough at a second round of UN-brokered talks that opened in Kuwait in April 2016, with both the Houthis and the Saudis seemingly under pressure and willing to negotiate. However there was no agreement made in sight because of the determination of the Houthis to remain in power with all the heavy weaponry that they have in control.The government of Yemeni President Abed Mansour Hadi did not accept this and neither did Riyadh. The Saudis made no strategic gains. Indeed, the Houthi-Saleh forces felt that their survival was synonymous with victory and they did not want to surrender at the negotiation table. They had tasted victory and wanted to experience it in the peace talks.

UN-brokered peace talks in Kuwait have collapsed after representatives from the Yemeni government said they will leave on Saturday, signalling the end of four months of indirect negotiations with Houthi rebels.

"Today (Friday), we are holding some farewell meetings... and the delegation will leave on Saturday," delegation spokesman Mohammad al-Emrani

​​​​​"There can be no more talks after the new coup," he said referring to the rebels' formation of a supreme political council to run war-torn Yemen.

The Houthi rebels and the General People's Congress of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh on Thursday jointly announced setting up the 10-member council.
The job of the council would be to "manage state affairs politically, militarily, economically, administratively, socially and in security," a statement issued by the Houthis said.

UN special envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said the rebels' move "contravenes" their commitment to the peace process and "represents a grave violation" of UN Security Council Resolution 2216 on Yemen's conflict.

Indirect negotiations held in Kuwait since April have failed to make headway. Most of the discussions focused on the type of government to run Yemen during a transition period.

April 2016 to the Present

On 25 May, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman briefed Council members in consultations on the Yemen peace talks in Kuwait, who then had further discussions with Special Envoy for Yemen Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed (via video teleconference). The day before (24 May) this meeting, the Secretary-General sent the Council a plan on how the Special Envoy’s Office could further support the parties, which the Council had requested in its 25 April 2016 statement. In the letter outlining his plan, the Secretary-General proposed significantly expanding the office in order to provide greater support to the negotiations, the De-escalation and Coordination Committee and the implementation of any agreements emerging from peace talks such as disarmament or other security sector issues.

On 5 July, the UK circulated draft presidential statement on Yemen following the adjournment of UN-brokered peace talks in Kuwait, which sought to urge the parties to use the two-week period before peace talks were scheduled to resume on 15 July to further refine their positions and conduct the negotiations in a more flexible and constructive manner. Egypt and Russia both broke silence procedures, and after a final silence period was broken by Russia on 12 July, the statement was never agreed to. Peace talks resumed on 16 July in Kuwait, following a one day delay.

On 25 August, following a meeting of foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the UK, the US and the Special Envoy in Jeddah, US Secretary of State John Kerry announced an agreement on a “renewed approach to negotiations” that would “simultaneously” address security and political tracks. On 31 August, the Special Envoy briefed the Council on the details of the new initiative, which was followed by consultations.

Following the 8 October attacks on a funeral in Sana’a, which according to initial UN figures killed over 140 people, the UK circulated a draft press statement that would have strongly condemned the attack. Russia broke a silence procedure on the text, believing the statement was not strong enough. The UK subsequently informed members on 13 October that it would prepare a new resolution that would include a call for a cessation of hostilities but at press time it had not been circulated. On 31 October, Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed briefed the Council on his recent efforts to reach a cessation of hostilities in Yemen (S/PV.7797). In the Yemen 2140 Sanctions Committee, the Panel of Experts submitted preliminary analysis on 17 October that the 8 October attacks on the funeral in Sana’a were the result of at least two aircraft bombs, and that evidence suggested that the Saudi Arabia-led coalition violated its obligations under international humanitarian law.

The Humanitarian Crisis

The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is regarded by multiple NGOs and observers to be one of the worst humanitarian crises on the globe. In August 2015, the Head of the International Red Cross, Peter Maurer, stated that after five months of war in Yemen, the destruction appears similar to that seen in Syria after five years. This situation appears to be becoming more severe in the short term.

Yemen was already the poorest county in the Middle East when the crisis escalated. Men, women, and children were already facing a humanitarian crisis, stemmed from years of poverty, poor governance, and instability, including widespread violations of human rights. The situation has only worsened in the past year and the speed and scale of the deterioration is alarming. Yemen has turned into a protection crisis where the average citizen is facing tremendous hardships and the most vulnerable populations are struggling simply to survive.

An estimated 14.8 million people lack access to basic healthcare, including 8.8 million living in severely under-served areas. Medical materials are in chronically short supply, and only 45 per cent of health facilities are functioning. As of October 2016, at least 274 health facilities had been damaged or destroyed in the conflict, 13 health workers had been killed and 31 injured. 

Only a political solution will end the suffering of the Yemeni people. But, until a political solution is reached, humanitarian action can only help alleviate suffering in a way that is not sustainable. Overshadowed by other crises in the region, the emergency in Yemen is not receiving the attention and support it requires.
Without the support of the international community, 26 million people will suffer, increased region instability will ensue, and the political and financial cost to the international and regional community will far outweigh today’s humanitarian cost.