Yemenis fear deeper humanitarian crisis after US and UK air strikes

Impoverished country has been ravaged by war between internationally recognised government and Houthi rebels since 2014

Food aid for vulnerable families in Sanaa. About 24 million people out of Yemen's population of 32 million are in need of humanitarian assistance. EPA
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Air strikes by the US and UK against Houthi military positions have alarmed many Yemenis, who fear the escalation could worsen the already dire humanitarian crisis in the war-torn country.

Yemen, the poorest country in the Arabian Peninsula, has suffered from a devastating war since 2014 between the Iran-backed rebels and government loyalists, which has caused what the UN describes as the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world.

About 24 million people out of its population of 32 million are in need of aid.

More than three million have been displaced by war from their homes and this week's air strikes, the first to be launched against the Houthi group since its attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea late last year, risk worsening the situation.

"I was hoping things would get better and I find a new job with the port authority," Yasmine Ahmad, 36, who lives in Houthi-controlled Hodeidah city, told The National on Friday.

"I think it's all gone now, and things will start to get worse. I am not afraid of strikes, but I am afraid of not being able to feed my three children."

Fear of being displaced

The Houthis, who control Yemen's capital Sanaa, the north, and parts of the western coast overlooking the strategic waters of the Red Sea, argue that their attacks are in support of ending Israel's war against their ally Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Analysts say the attacks have turned the group of mountain fighters into a prominent regional player, a recognition they have long sought to acquire. The threat they pose to global supply chains has attracted global attention, marking their transition from an Iran-backed local rebel group to an influential militia in the Middle East.

There are also growing fears that the Houthis could use this threat as leverage in any negotiations to end the war in Yemen after 10 years of fighting.

For pharmacist Abdel Salam Mohamed, 35, who lives in Hodeidah city, the biggest fear is being displaced.

"I heard the sounds of strikes and saw from the window of my house the smoke rising from a building nearby. The war is back after a quiet phase. I can't imagine having to leave my house one day," he said.

Collapse of public institutions

The Houthis argue that the US-led attacks that hit dozens of their military sites across Yemen on Friday morning and killed five rebels, are the "price to pay for standing against Israel and the US", as the rebels hope that this would also bolster their diminishing domestic support.

"The Houthis have been desperately waiting to engage with America and Israel for 20 years," wrote Yemeni expert Nada Dawsari on X, formerly known as Twitter. "Today the US and UK made their dream come true."

The strikes came as Yemen's warring sides were slowly moving towards a political peace agreement to end the war that has caused the collapse of public institutions that provide healthcare, water, sanitation, and education.

Yemen's economy is also facing extraordinary fiscal challenges. The country has lost $90 billion in potential economic output and more than 600,000 people have lost their jobs, according to the UN.

"Will these strikes further complicate imports? Will we receive less aid? Is the hope for peace over? Nobody knows," said university student Asmaa Zaid, 22, who lives near Hodeida airport, one of the sites hit by the US and UK bombs and missiles.

"All we know is that we are scared.

"I will be staying home for a few days. I don't want to leave my family."

Houthis vow to retaliate after US and UK strikes in Yemen

Houthis vow to retaliate after US and UK strikes in Yemen
Updated: January 12, 2024, 5:59 PM