Image: Max Bender (Unsplash)


Fuelled by conflict, Yemen faces the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, with more than 24 million people (some 80% of the population) in need of humanitarian assistance, including more than 12 million children. In March 2015, armed conflict escalated and the country has become a living hell for its citizens. 

The five-year war has led to the loss of livelihood, leaving the citizens of Yemen displaced and under attack. This unfortunate situation is worsened by the widespread famine that has been present for years on end.  The number of malnourished children is estimated to reach 2.4 million by the end of the year, accounting for a 20% increase from previous years. With the arrival and spread of COVID-19, the country is ravaged with a new emergency on top of an emergency fueling the fears of how an already dire humanitarian crisis could deteriorate.

War in Yemen: 

Separatist movements in the north and south of Yemen has fuelled what is known as one of the greatest preventable disasters facing humanity. Established in May 1990, as a product of the reunification of the Yemen Arab Republic (North Yemen) and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen), the country has been characterised by ongoing conflict sparked by opposition movements such as the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP). The JMP formed as an unlikely opposition coalition of six parties, including Islah and the Yemeni Socialist Party. Separatist views in the south have been shared since reunification, culminating in what has been years of armed conflict between northern and southern political parties in Yemen. 

Following years of what has been a civil war and the events of the Arab Spring Uprising in 2011, the Yemeni dictator, Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced to hand over his power to his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. After the overthrowing of Saleh, the Saudi Arabia-led armed conflict began on 26 March 2015, driving the country into a humanitarian crisis. 

Impact of the war in Yemen:

Conflict in Yemen has displaced over four million people (along with nearly 1.7 million children), who have been forced to flee their homes and seek refuge in camps or improvised settings in parts of Yemen. Displacement, to a great extent, is due to war crimes and human rights abuses, including the Saudi-led coalition’s unlawful airstrikes on homes, schools, marketplaces and the Houthis’ undiscerning bombings of neighbourhoods.

In addition to this, children continue to be maimed and killed in conflict, leaving them in desperate need of humanitarian aid. UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) reported that tens of thousands of children have died, both as a direct result of the conflict and from indirect causes such as malnutrition and diseases that stem from the lasting famine that has been present in the country for just over five years. Other impacts are profoundly seen in the economic and social status of Yemen. 

As a result of armed conflict the growth of trade and investment industries in Yemen have been hit hard by the crisis. Conflict for the most part reduces financial creation due to the destruction of profitable resources, diversion of resources and damage to human capital. This is seen in Yemen where war has essentially reduced the capabilities of the country to effectively and efficiently produce goods. Moreover, conflict has led to foreign direct investment (FDI) being withdrawn from Yemen, essentially leading it into an economic slump, furthering poverty and the famine issue the country is confronted with. 

Estimates have shown that more than 80% of Yemeni’s are living below the poverty line, amid an economic crisis marked by major inflation and soaring food prices. Between 80-90% of Yemen’s basic food supply is imported from overseas. With the escalation of conflict and withdrawal in investment, the country faces more hardship than before. 

COVID-19: The potentially deadlier foe than the war:

Five years on, Yemen has suffered through ongoing conflict and widespread famine. The country’s suffering, however, has not yet ended. With the arrival and spread of COVID-19, the country is ravaged with another emergency on top of an emergency, fueling the fears of how the humanitarian crisis could worsen. 

While many countries have been deeply affected by the novel coronavirus, Yemen is among the most vulnerable. Reasons include that the country is still at war, it is already anguished by the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, famine-stricken, being short in supply of water and sanitation, and its struggle to cope with diseases such as dengue fever, malaria and cholera. Other reasons are, that its health system has collapsed as a result of war, medic themselves are vulnerable and the actual number of cases is unknown due to the lack of testing kits and of transparency in data from the rebels and government.

The United Nations (UN) head of operations in Yemen, Lise Grande, says that Yemen faces the most dreadful outcome imaginable. The loss of life from the pandemic could exceed the combined toll of war, disease and hunger over the last five years in Yemen. To date, Yemen has reported 1763 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and its death toll stands at 508 fatalities. These figures suggest that due to the issues faced by Yemen the number of confirmed cases potentially does not reflect the actual number of cases mainly, due to the lack testing capacity in the country.

The future of Yemen: 

The future of Yemen is indeterminate. Studies have shown that if conflict continues, the cost in mortality, especially children, will increase. A scenario that assumes reduced conflict intensity relative to 2018, but continued large-scale violence through to 2022 estimates that conflict will account for 482,000 deaths, 331 000 deaths of children under the age of 5 and 49.4% of the population living in extreme poverty. Yemen would have lost 181 billion USD in economic output. Over five years of conflict in Yemen has turned millions of lives into a nightmare. Human right violations, death, injury and widespread famine are daily risks for many. The longer the war rages on, the more likely consequences will echo further down the generations. As the country enters its sixth year of crisis, urgent humanitarian assistance is required. The Human Development Index (HDI) predicts that should conflict continue into 2030, the country will be set back by 40 years of development. While UNICEF and the UN work around the clock to bring comfort to the people of Yemen, a global call for action is needed. 

Nirvaly Mooloo is a final-year student at the University of Pretoria. She is an activist and feminist at heart. Her interests strongly lie in academic fields specialising in Politics and International Relations. Her dream is to one day be the leader that brings change to the livelihoods of others. 


  1. This article was a very interesting read. I had always heard of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, but never really knew how deeply rooted it was. Reading this article helped me gain some perspective, without leaving me feeling like I’m illiterate. Not only was it informative, it was also concise and to the point.

    Liked by 1 person

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