This week marks four years since Saudi Arabian jets began a deadly bombing campaign of its poor neighbour, Yemen — an intervention that has only worsened the humanitarian crisis.

The bloody conflict has taken heavy toll on the most vulnerable as an estimated 80,000 kids under the age of five have starved to death.
The bloody conflict has taken heavy toll on the most vulnerable as an estimated 80,000 kids under the age of five have starved to death. (AP)

Just a few months back there was hope that the years-long conflict in Yemen might finally end as the warring sides agreed to talk. But as things stand today, the situation there has only worsened for ordinary Yemenis. 

In December, the besieged government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the Houthi rebels met in Sweden and agreed to avert further escalation around the port city of Hodeidah. 

The talks brokered by the United Nations were meant to ensure that the port, which accounts of more than two-thirds of goods shipped into the country, keeps working. 

That was important because Yemen depends on imports for everything from food to medicine, much of which now comes in the shape of aid. 

Known as the Stockholm Agreement, it did ease the tensions, notably the relentless airstrikes by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition backing Hadi.

It, however, did little to abate the suffering of Yemenis elsewhere, and diplomats are now struggling to salvage the agreement as Houthis and the government accuse each other of violating its terms. 

According to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) while the skirmishes centred around Hodeidah declined, they escalated elsewhere. 

Between December and mid-March, an estimated 788 civilians were killed across the country, says NRC. Most of them died in the shelling. 

“Civilian casualties have doubled in places like Hajjah and Taiz,” NRC’s Yemen advocacy manager Sultana Begum told TRT World

“The agreement has been breached by different sides. There was supposed to a troop redeployment and prisoner exchange. That hasn’t happened.”

Houthi rebel fighters inspect the damage after a reported airstrike carried out by the Saudi-led coalition targeted the presidential palace in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, in 2017.
Houthi rebel fighters inspect the damage after a reported airstrike carried out by the Saudi-led coalition targeted the presidential palace in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, in 2017. (AFP)

While airstrikes are not killing as many, people are dying because of landmines, snipers, IEDs and starvation. 

Homes, farms, shops and schools - all have been attacked since the poorest country on the Arabian peninsula descended into chaos in 2015. 

And this week marks the fourth year since Riyadh began the controversial air raids to support government of Hadi who was forced to flee in 2015 after Houthi rebels took over major cities and towns including the capital, Sanaa. 

Depending on the sources, between 7,000 and 68,000 people have been killed in the war, many in relentless Saudi air raids, which have at times hit unsuspecting civilians during funerals and weddings. 

The numbers get even more gruesome. 

The NGO, Save the Children estimates that 37 children have been killed or injured on average every month over the past year in bombings from air raids. 

That’s on top of what it reported earlier about the 80,000 kids who died because of malnourishment between 2015 and 2018. 

Saudi Arabia says that Shia Houthis are being financed and armed by Iran, which wants to increase influence in the region. Tehran denies that allegation. 

Over the years, the Saudis have violated international humanitarian law by using excessive air power, according to the UN. 

It has also created conditions of an economic meltdown in regions controlled by the Houthis in northern parts by blocking trade and holding back salaries of civil servants. 

NRC’s Begum says that there is food in the markets in Sanaa and Hodeidah but the prices are so high that people can’t afford it. 

“Conflict has destroyed people's’ livelihood. For instance, fishing was an important industry along the coastal belt. Now fishermen are too scared to out into the sea.”    

The United States has backed Saudi Arabia with technical support such as aircraft refuelling and weapons including cluster ammunition. 

In late March 2015, a few days after the first bombs were dropped on Houthi targets, former US President Barack Obama’s administration put its weight behind Riyadh. 

However, the US support has done little to weaken Houthis, let alone defeat them. 

Instead, it has helped turn the conflict in what the UN says is the worst man-made humanitarian disaster where half of the 24 million population is malnourished. 

Attempts by US lawmakers to stop US military support to the Saudis was blocked by President Donald Trump in February. 

American backing of the kingdom’s rulers came into focus after the brutal killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul. 

In absence of any concrete international efforts to end the conflict, it’s up to the warring sides to end the hostilities for the situation to normalise. 

“We need parties to the conflict to stop attacking civilians. We need to see nationwide ceasefire,” says Begum.  

Source: TRT World