The tragedy of Yemen

As famine and disease stalk the Arab world’s poorest country, aid agencies warn that only peace can prevent Yemen from spiralling further into catastrophe

Yemen was once known by the title Arabia Felix, or ‘fortunate Arabia’. No more. Four ruinous years of war, hunger and misery have left the country on the brink of collapse, ravaged by the fastest-growing cholera outbreak on record, and wholly dependent on aid.

Disease and famine now rival gunfire and bombs as the biggest dangers to civilians, accelerating what the United Nations has described as “currently the worst humanitarian crisis in the world".

The story of the poorest Arab state can be told in statistics: 1,200 days of armed conflict, with more than 10,000 people dead. Some 1.2 million cases of cholera and a diphtheria outbreak, both diseases of poverty whose spread is accelerated by a national shortage of food, fuel, clean water and healthcare.

More than 3 million children born into war, and 1.8 million malnourished, making them more susceptible to infection. Two million people displaced from their homes.

“An entire generation of children in Yemen is growing up knowing nothing but violence,” says Meritxell Relano, UNICEF's representative in the country. “Those who survive are likely to carry the physical and psychological scars of conflict for the rest of their lives.”

Yemen’s problems run deep. Much of the country is desert, and water – particularly for farming – is scarce. Even before the war, Yemen relied on imports for almost all of its food, fuel and water, and experts have long predicted that Sanaa will be the first capital city to run dry.

The conflict, which began life as a slow-burn coup by Houthi rebels in 2015, has strangled the flow of commercial supplies, forcing up the price of basic goods beyond most citizens' reach. Naval and air blockades have at times halted even humanitarian relief, leaving an estimated 22 million people in need of support.

Calls for aid funding have largely been met by Saudi Arabia and the UAE who, according to UN data, supplied 55.7 per cent of the $2.98bn given last year to their impoverished neighbour. But reaching those caught in Houthi-occupied areas is a fraught undertaking. Peace, not humanitarian aid, remains the only answer to the escalating crisis in Yemen – but as the pace of war continues, it is ordinary citizens who will pay the price.