Yemen: How did ‘The Forgotten War’ begin?

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Credit: WorldAtlas

Yemen is located in the Middle East, and is next to Saudi Arabia and Oman.

Its people have been suffering for the past few years, but its war is being called the ‘Forgotten War’ as more attention is being paid to the war in Syria. Here’s what is going on there.

You might have heard some of these gruesome statistics about Yemen:

  • 8.4 million people are at risk of starvation.
  • 22.2 million people or 75% of the population need humanitarian aid.
  • 400,000 children under the age of five are currently affected by malnutrition.

How did the situation deteriorate to this level?

Yemen became a unified country in 1990, with an authoritarian (strict) President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, taking control. Saleh’s two-decade-long leadership was underscored by accusations of corruption and mismanagement. His rule — or rather misrule — did little to improve the standard of living for Yemeni people. The country remained one of the poorest in the world. Billions of dollars of oil money were embezzled out of the country by politicians while 40% of the population lived on less than $2 a day.

Power to the people! In 2011, the citizens finally had enough. Yemen participated in the Arab Spring, a series of anti-government protests that swept through the Middle East and North Africa with the intention of creating fairer political systems and economic opportunity for the people.

The President steps down: Due to these protests, Saleh was forced to step down from being President and hand over power to his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. The transition of power was meant to make things better; however, Hadi struggled with extremist attacks, corruption, food insecurity, and continuing support of many officers to Saleh.

The rise of the Houthi rebels: The weak governance in the country was taken advantage of by a minority sect of Islam called the Shiites, who differ from the majority Sunnis in their belief systems and religious leaders. In the 1990s, a charismatic leader named Hussein al Houthi fought a series of rebellions against Saleh’s corrupt regime, and since then, the Yemeni Shiites have been christened the Houthi rebels. The Houthis, since Saleh’s removal from power, have decided to take Yemen’s fate into their own hands. In late 2014, the rebels took control of the capital, Sanaa, and forced Hadi’s government into exile.

Civil war: What has commenced is a civil war between the Houthis and the government in exile… but wait! It isn’t all that simple.

A coalition or group of countries got together to fight the Houthi rebels: The civil war escalated when, in March 2015, Saudi Arabia and 8 other Sunni countries, supported by the US, UK, and France, began conducting airstrikes against the Houthis. This power play has its roots in a historic Shiite-Sunni conflict between Iran (a Shiite country) and Saudi Arabia (a Sunni country). Saudi Arabia stepped in because it was worried Iran would gain power in Yemen if the Shiite Houthis gained the upper hand. Therefore, it is the common political consensus (people who know politics believe) that Yemen has become a pawn in the Saudi-Irani conflict for dominance of the Middle East. Three years since the airstrikes began, the war rages on.

The unfortunate result: A shameful humanitarian crisis.


Written and illustrated by Rya Sara Jetha. Rya lives in Mumbai, India with her family. She enjoys writing, playing the piano, running and baking.

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