The worst humanitarian crisis in the world


Yemen’s humanitarian crisis is considered the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. About 80% of the population needs humanitarian aid and more than 20 million people across the country suffer from food insecurity.

Context of the armed conflict in Yemen

Before we understand the political conflict, it is necessary to mention the religion present in this country, as the religious aspects are involved in the conflict. The majority of the population of this country is of Arab ethnicity, and the religion is Muslim. However, this religion is divided into two strands: the Shias and the Sunnis. The Sunnis make up the vast majority of the Arabian Peninsula and the Shiites are present in only three countries in the vicinity – Iraq, Iran and Bahrain.

In 2011, the Arab Spring emerged, which consisted of a series of protests, with the objective of imposing a better quality of life for the population and overthrowing dictatorial and oppressive governments that prevailed at the time. This event proved to be a failure in the political transition, as Saleh (former Yemeni president) was forced to relinquish his power and hand it over to Vice President Hadi, making Yemen more fragile.

For his part, Hadi presented himself as a Sunni, causing a conflict between the Sunnis and the Shiites. The Shiites (Houthis, rebel group) started a sequence of movements against the current president.

The conflict escalated dramatically in March 2015, as Saudi Arabia and its allies put in place a Saudi intervention in Yemen, called the “Renewal of Hope Operation”. The first operation of this collision is called “Decisive Storm Operation” and was based on the restitution of President Al Hadi and the control of the Houthis’ advance on Aden, through the air and naval attacks and blockades, reaching its end of neutralizing the army of the Houthis in the first weeks. After this triumph, this Saudi coalition declared that this operation should be replaced by another called “Renewal of Hope Operation”, the latter being in effect until today. Airstrikes continue to be the center of this coalition, in conjunction with the “Golden Arrow Operation”, an operation led by the United Arab Emirates forces and the Yemeni army, which regained control of the port city of Aden.

Still in 2015, the conflict intensified when the Houthis advanced with a missile attack against the capital Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. The latter responded with a sea, land, and air blockade to Yemen and this attack was approved by the United Nations Security Council. This blockade extended to other Houthis-controlled ports, aggravating the humanitarian crisis experienced by millions of Yemenis, limiting humanitarian aid from the United Nations. Due to strong international criticism, Saudi Arabia lifted the blockade in late 2017 in order to ease some of the humanitarian pressure. However, this blockade did not change the dependence on Saudi political decisions on allowing commercial and humanitarian traffic.

At the end of October 2018, the conflict reached the city of Holeida, where the largest port is located, assuming itself as an important entry of humanitarian aid into the country. Due to the fact that this port is essential in terms of humanitarian aid, as well as the conservation of various water and food supplies, there could be no military operation, as this operation could cause a huge wave of hunger in Yemen and, it would also imply political consequences, undermining possible peace negotiations between the Houthis and the Hadi government and the international coalition.

In December 2018, Government Forces and Houthis met in Sweden to sign a peace agreement. This Stockholm agreement marks the first crucial step towards resolving the conflict, as it is proof that the international community is concerned with the dimension that the conflict has already reached and that it is focused on condemning the war, as well as contributing actively for your end. This agreement also represents an instrument that the parties, even though they are divided into essential issues, must meet to reach their commitments.

The humanitarian crisis in Yemen

Due to the armed conflict that has lasted for some years and that devastated the lives of millions of people, Yemen faces the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world, involving a large part of its population. About 24 million people (more than 2 thirds of the population) need humanitarian support and protection. This man-made disaster was terrible for civilians, as more than 20 million people currently suffer from food insecurity and more than 7 million people do not know where their next meal will come from and are at risk of starvation.

Since the start of the conflict, it is estimated that around 4 million people have fled their homes, with approximately 3 million people remaining displaced and 1 million people repatriated.

As a result, only half of the health centers remain fully functional, but medicines and equipment are limited.

On the other hand, access to drinking water has become a major challenge and the lack of adequate sanitation has increased the risk of communicable diseases (such as the Covid-19 pandemic).

However, this humanitarian situation is expected to worsen further in the coming years. Without urgent action, including full financing for the Humanitarian Response Plan and adoption of measures by the parties to end the war and facilitate the resumption of the food trade and other imports, and full access to all people in need, the crisis will get worse. It is absolutely essential that the parties to the conflict respect international humanitarian law in order to allow the importation of food, medical supplies, and other goods necessary for Yemen and to ensure the unimpeded movement of humanitarian actors to reach those in need of assistance. In this way, access is the key to the effective delivery of humanitarian assistance to people in need across Yemen.

In conclusion, to end this very serious humanitarian crisis in Yemen, it is necessary to end this conflict and thus achieve peace in Yemen. To resolve this conflict, Yemen needs two factors: on the one hand, the international community must continue to put pressure on the coalition and the Houthis to end the conflict. On the other hand, stakeholders must be able to keep the parties at the negotiating table to put the agreements signed in 2018 into practice.

Written by Maria Luísa Pereira


Pereira, Maria Luisa (2020). A problemática das crianças-soldado no Iémen. Available:

OCHA (2018). Crisis Overview. Available :

UNRIC. Iémen: a maior crise humanitária do mundo. Available:

ACNUR Brasil (2020). Falta de recursos agrava crise humanitária e COVID-19 no Iêmen. Available:

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