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Pandemic Amidst the World's Worst Humanitarian Crisis; Yemen

SEVENTH PLACE ARTICLE: The author, Shalini S Menon is a second year student at St. Joseph's College of Law, Bengaluru.

Nearly five years of discord, the collapse of the economy and institutions have emanated the world's largest man-made humanitarian crisis which received recognition as “World’s worst Humanitarian crisis” from the United Nations. The catastrophe setup with the Arab Uprisings in 2011, conflict between the Government of Yemen and Houthi Rebels, with foreign powers having taken sides among the warring parties. With the onset of the global pandemic and the biggest cholera outbreak in history pushing people to the brink of starvation and death, most vulnerable groups being – displaced people and children, women/girls, refugees and migrants, marginalized groups [1]. An analysis of the complex history of Yemen shall favour us to understand the current conflict This article probes the inception of this barbarous regime and the impact of the pandemic.


The Republic of Yemen was formed on 22 May 1990 as a result to unify the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen) and Yemen Arab Republic (North Yemen). The two regions did not meet eye to eye in their political orientation, the former one a Marxist state and the latter conservative. However, they maintained a relatively friendly relation before the unification. North and South Yemen remain two of the poorest countries in the world. Despite clear differences, there were several mutual needs, severe economic problems that led to its unification [2].


Cairo Agreement, [3] October 28, 1972. The two governments agreed to establish a unified state with one flag, capital, leadership, single executive, legislature, and judicial authority, following the republic, national and democratic organization of government. Later in 1979, February a conflict broke out. In the late 1980s, the prospect of unification was revived when the two states spurred interest in developing agreements for the exploration of oil and gas that later lead to form the Yemeni Company for Investment in Mineral and Oil Resources (YCIMOR). The military officer Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had ruled North Yemen since 1978, assumed leadership of the new nation and this marked the harbinger of commotion which surprisingly continues even today. The Houthi movement, named after the family it is associated with, emerged from Yemen's Northern Province Saada, bordering Saudi Arabia, and has been locked in an increasingly complex war. Backed by the US, the Saudi-led coalition have been their most recent and main enemy [4]. Their influence grew and they rose against the Saleh government.


The Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen remains the worst in the world driven by conflict, disease, and economic collapse. The 2019 UN report said the country’s “degree of suffering is nearly unprecedented” with more than 20 million Yemenis struggling with food security and half of those on the brink of famine. An estimated majority of the population of Yemen require some form of humanitarian or protection assistance.

The key Humanitarian issues stated in the 2019 Humanitarian Needs Overview for Yemen Report are:

1. Basic survival needs

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), confirmed pockets of catastrophic hunger in some locations, with 238,000 people as victims to it. Access to clean and safe drinking water, still a dream to a total of 17.8 million people, and 19.7 million lack adequate health care. Humanitarian response is increasingly becoming the only lifeline for millions of Yemenis.

2. Protection of Civilians

With the intensifying conflicts, Yemen is facing a severe protection crisis, increased indiscriminate attacks, and potential violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL), which are taking a brutal toll on civilians, lack of basic security, rights, and safety.

3. Livelihoods and essential basic services

Yemen remains the poorest country in the Middle East with a falling economy, diminishing employment opportunities. An estimate of 81 percent of the Yemenis is below the poverty line. Yemen has largely exhausted its foreign reserves and according to the World Bank, the excess printing of the new banknotes without any adequate monetary policy instruments has resulted in the soaring inflation [5].


The Ministry of Public Health and Population of Yemen reported 11,735 suspected Cholera cases with 25 confirmed death on 8 January 2019. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported this as the outcome of the rapidly deteriorating hygiene and sanitation [6].

Yemen declared its first COVID-19 case on 10 April 2020 and further confirmed 226 cases over the next seven weeks with 43 deaths [7]. The health workers are working in every possible way to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Since the cases are on the rise Humanitarian partners are focusing on three key priorities. The first line of effort is to spread awareness among the people about the virus and how it spreads. Nineteen thousand mobilizers, who have been working to mitigate the Cholera outbreak, are being rehatted to address the COVID-19. The second line of effort aims to track down community spread, ensure COVID-19 supplies including personal protection equipments, oxygen cylinders, and ICU beds. The third line of effort aims to save as many lives as possible. The hospitals will provide additional bed capacity and technical ‘know-how’ to strengthen the clinical management.

The deteriorating environment is posing a difficult situation to assure beneficiaries, donors and counterparts that the aid is reaching the people who are in need. Regular conflicts and access constraints have put many vulnerable groups in hard-to-reach areas. Over 208 frontline partners and agencies are currently providing some form of assistance to an average of 13 million people across the country. The Humanitarian partners are exposed to escalating risks, killing, theft, assault, harassment and threats, arrests and arbitrary detention, confiscation of humanitarian goods and assets.

The UN World Food Programme is open for donations; it caters 12 million malnourished mothers and children. The Medecins Sans Frontieres has a great part in restoring the Yemen’s healthcare system which collapsed years ago. According to the UNICEF, “In Yemen, a child dies every 10 minutes from preventable causes” [8]. It organises fundraisers to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Yemen. Mona is a local organisation that supplies food and necessaries to displaced families. With the aid of such NGO’s and organisations there still lies a ray of hope. The lust for power of various organizations and institutions has put the life many innocent people at stake. The involvement of international institutions have mitigated the effect on people however much more drastic steps need to be taken to tackle the root cause of these issues.









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