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Famine in Yemen: The Culpability of the West

Written by Carolina Beirne for the Middle East Section.

The suffering Yemen has endured and is enduring, to this day, is abominable. In this article, Carolina Beirne brings attention to this humanitarian crisis and the role of the West as she asserts the urgency of this case.

The onset of the Yemeni Civil War in 2014 precipitated a profound humanitarian crisis marked by widespread food insecurity and a catastrophic famine, which the United Nations estimates kills at least 130 children daily.[1]


Rooted primarily in the protracted armed conflict, the crisis has been further exacerbated by the imposition of a blockade by Saudi Arabia in 2015, intensifying significantly in 2017. Despite partial alleviation, this blockade continues to impede the delivery of crucial humanitarian aid, perpetuating the dire conditions in Yemen. The cumulative effect has left the country mired in severe food insecurity, with enduring ramifications for its populace. [2]


The intervention led by Saudi Arabia, coupled with the blockade, has inflicted profound socio-economic distress on Yemen, deliberately targeting essential infrastructure, including food production and distribution networks. This strategic targeting has accentuated the famine, pushing millions of Yemenis to the brink of starvation and exacerbating malnutrition rates, particularly among vulnerable segments such as children and the elderly.[3] The consequential devastation wrought upon fishing communities, notably in Al Hudaydah, underscores the depth of the crisis, with livelihoods shattered and economic precarity heightened.[4]


Western complicity in perpetuating Yemen's humanitarian catastrophe warrants critical examination. Notably, the United States and the United Kingdom, through their arms sales and military support to the Saudi-led coalition, have bolstered the conflict dynamics, prolonging civilian suffering and exacerbating famine conditions.[5] The moral and legal implications of this complicity demand scrutiny, raising questions of accountability and ethical responsibility in the face of humanitarian exigencies of this magnitude.


Despite the exigencies, humanitarian actors, exemplified by organisations like Doctors Without Borders, have endeavoured to mitigate the crisis's impact through provision of aid and support to affected communities.[6] However, their efforts are impeded by logistical challenges and the adverse effects of protracted conflict, underscoring the imperative for enhanced international cooperation and support to alleviate the suffering of Yemeni civilians.


The decision to relocate the Central Bank of Yemen to Aden in September 2016, ostensibly aimed at administrative restructuring, inadvertently precipitated a severe liquidity crisis exacerbating the famine's impact.[7] This decision, compounded by the closure of Yemeni bank accounts by American banks in 2010 and subsequent conflict-related disruptions, accentuated the financial turmoil confronting Yemen.


The years 2017 and 2018 witnessed a deepening of the humanitarian crisis, with the blockade's continuation exacerbating famine conditions. Despite international appeals for a cessation of hostilities, military support to the Saudi-led coalition persisted, prolonging Yemen's dire humanitarian predicament.[8]


Efforts to mitigate famine in subsequent years were impeded by Western complicity in arms sales, exacerbating conflict dynamics. The ensuing escalation in needs underscored the urgency of international intervention to address the crisis's root causes and provide essential humanitarian assistance to Yemen's vulnerable populations.


In conclusion, the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, characterised by famine and food insecurity, represents a profound indictment of international inaction and complicity. Addressing this crisis necessitates a concerted effort to hold accountable those responsible for perpetuating conflict dynamics and impeding humanitarian relief efforts. Urgent action is imperative to alleviate the suffering of millions of Yemenis and prevent further loss of life in one of the world's most dire humanitarian emergencies.


[1] Home Office, Country Policy and Information Note Yemen: Security and Humanitarian Situation (2021).

[2] Helvetas, Global Hunger Index: The Challenge of Hunger and Climate Change ( 2019)

[3] Campaign Against Arms Trade, A Humanitarian Crisis, Created By War, 14 February 2022) <> accessed 15 February 2024.

[4] Suha Mohammed, 'How War Destroyed Yemen’s Once-Thriving Fishing Industry' (News Line, 3 February 2021) <> accessed 15 February 2024

[5] Kali Robinson, 'Yemen’s Tragedy: War, Stalemate, and Suffering' (Council on Foreign Relations, 1 May 2023) <> accessed 15 February 2024.

[6] Doctors without borders, 'Yemen briefing' (Doctors Without Borders, 2023) <> accessed 15 February 2024.

[7] Al Jazeera, 'Yemeni leader relocates central bank in blow to rebels' (Al Jazeera, 18 September 2016) <> accessed 15 February 2024.

[8] United nations, 'Despite Ongoing Challenges, Parties to Yemen Conflict Showing Willingness to Make Progress on Ceasefire, Political Talks, Top Official Tells Security Council' (SECURITY COUNCIL, 17 May 2023) <> accessed 15 February 2024.

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