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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > Jan-18 > Yemen’s moral quagmire

Yemen’s moral quagmire

It’s the world’s deadliest humanitarian disaster— and a dozen other nations, including Britain, are making the situation worse
Yemenis search under the rubble of a house destroyed in an air strike in the capital Sana’a
© MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Driving through the monotonous desert that connects Yemen’s eastern provinces to the country’s northern highlands, the only break in the road as it heads towards a liquefied mirage are rusting oil barrels and makeshift wooden huts that mark the regular checkpoints dotted along the tarmac. Fuel tankers, food trucks and cement lorries pause as drivers hand bundles of green and yellow Yemeni rial notes out of their windows to scruffy soldiers. While government employees, from medical practitioners to street cleaners, continue their wait of more than a year for unpaid salaries, and while millions face starvation, these wads of cash fuel a war economy that is proving highly lucrative for some.

This war is at once head-spinningly complex in its causes and brutally simple in its human consequences. It began in September 2014 after so-called “Houthi” rebels, allied with Yemen’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, took control of the capital, Sana’a. Saleh’s successor, President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, fled to Saudi Arabia six months later. The Saudis then intervened on Hadi’s behalf, beginning daily bombing raids and leading a multinational coalition of forces. By the end of 2016 it had cost a conservatively estimated 10,000 civilian lives, and forced some three million people to flee their homes. It is now the world’s worst humanitarian crisis—worse even than Syria.

After the twists and turns of the near three-year-long war, on 5th December the wily former president, Saleh, became one of the victims of a conflict he had masterminded. He was killed by Houthis just days after splitting from the movement.

This is a war of unstable alliances on the ground, and also one that involves an extraordinary range of nations and nationalities. The Saudi Arabia-led coalition includes Bahrain, the UAE, Morocco, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan and, until a recent diplomatic spat, Qatar. Sudan, Senegal and Eritrea are also involved—Sudan has supplied the infamous Janjaweed militia, notorious for ethnic cleansing in Darfur. They are supporting thousands of Yemeni ground troops trained in Saudi, Eritrea and the UAE.

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s January 2018 issue: Five writers attempt to plot the impending advances in shopping, politics, sex, food and computing through 2018. James Plunkett looks at shopping and explains how personalised prices will hand even more power to the big companies; Theo Bertram outlines why political volatility is here to stay and what it means for us; Kate Devlin argues that sex robots are only a part of the impending sexual revolution; Stephanie Boland outlines why we’ll all end up eating lab grown food; and Jay Elwes explains the next steps in our computing quantum leap. Elsewhere in the issue: Dani Rodrik uncovers the truth behind the great globalisation lie—there were always going to be losers, Iona Craig delves into the war in Yemen—the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, Chris Tilbury explains why Britain urgently needs a plan for its failing prisons