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Humanitarian Crisis in War-Battered Yemen

A young boy, who was luckily in school during the aerial attack by Saudi-led forces, sits outside his home on debris.r, 90KM south of Sanaa the capital of Yemen, in the afternoon hours on Tuesday, April 14, 2015.

A young boy sits outside his home, which was destroyed when Saudi-led forces targeted his neighborhood Dhamar, 90 kilometers from the capital. Photo by Alhussain Albukhaiti, taken on April 14, 2015. Copyright Demotix.

The devastating war in Yemen wages on, even as Ramadan begins. On the eve of the holy month, five simultaneous explosions targeting mosques and offices in Sanaa killed 31 people and injured dozens, while airstrikes from the Saudi-led coalition continued.

Read more: A Tragic Ramadan in Yemen as Saudi-Led Coalition Bombardment Continues

More than 2,800 people have been killed and 13,000 injured since the coalition declared war on the Houthis and their allies on March 26, with the aim of restoring the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

One million people have been internally displaced in Yemen and 21.1 million — 80 per cent of the population — are in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the latest report by the UN.

Yet the country's residents are not the only victims of this war.

Read more: Yemen's Heritage, a Victim of War

Hadi, was forced into exile when the Houthi fighters took control of large parts of Yemen, including the capital.

Power plants, fixed line and mobile telecommunications networks are out of service in many cities in Yemen. The country is being forced to ration oil. In multiple areas, this has meant cutting all electricity, and telecommunication services, including the Internet.

Read more: Under a Shaky Ceasefire, Yemenis Struggle to Stay Connected to the World

A five-day humanitarian truce took effect close to midnight on Tuesday, May 12. Aid agencies are sending in food, fuel and other supplies for civilians. But millions are in need in the Arab world's poorest country, where the UN has warned a humanitarian disaster is unfolding.

According to UNICEF, children in Yemen are more at risk of dying from hunger and poor health care than bombs and bullets.

Latest tweets from Yemen

Thousands of Yemenis found themselves stranded abroad when Saudi Arabia and its Arab coalition started pounding their country. Nina A. Aqlan, recounts her experience escaping Yemen:

Yemenis are now being stranded, displaced, starved, killed, mentally sabotaged, humiliated, and terrorized. Enduring inhumane conditions, no access to fuel, water, poor to non existent medical services, official warnings that telecom maybe suspended soon due to lack of fuel, not being able to leave and now major airports in the country completely destroyed, not able to even receive money transfers from abroad, no foreign hard currency except for Saudi Riyals, Yemenis stuck abroad not able to return back to Yemen, and not even allowed into any Arab country without a visa.

Arab coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia began pounding Yemen with airstrikes on March 26, after Yemen's President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia.

Locals report the Saudi assault has gone far beyond military sites and the main target of the campaign, the tribal militia Houthis. The ten-thousand strong tribal militia from the north, forcefully occupied the presidential palace in Yemen's capital city on January 21, effectively ousting President Hadi. The Houthis accused Hadi's government of being corrupt.

Saudi bombardment has been intense in San'aa and Aden, a southern port city and Yemen's second largest city after Sana'a.

In Aden, the Houthis have been fighting along side militias loyal to Yemen's former president, Ali Abdulla Saleh. Saleh was forced to step down after three decades in power, following popular protests in 2011. Hadi soon took his place.

Online, bloggers are torn between those wanting to see the Houthis rooted out of power and those who don't want to see Yemen becoming another Iraq, Syria or Libya.

Yemenis stranded

Dozens of Yemenis are reported to be crossing the Gulf of Aden in small boats to get to Somalia and Djibouti to escape fighting and airstrikes. This reverses a decades-old trend in which thousands of Somalis sought sanctuary in Yemen to escape violence in their country.

Shahnoza Gadoeva was one of over a hundred Tajik doctors working and living with their families in Yemen when a bombing campaign spearheaded by Saudi Arabia and its allies began last month. As she published an SOS post in a Facebook group asking for a help to be evacuated, she had no idea her plea would go viral.

And who will rescue us? We live in Yemen, work as doctors, there are more than 300 of us, 400 if to count children too. Yemen is being bombed by Saudi planes since yesterday night. Our MFA is silent. We are horrified. Russia is not going to send the [Ministry of Emergency Situations] planes yet.

Read more: Did a Facebook Post Speed up the Rescue of Tajik Citizens from Yemen?

Thousands of Yemenis are stranded abroad, unable to return home. Another 300,000 are internally displaced in Yemen, with little to no help. The imposed embargo on Yemeni air, land and sea, caused Yemenis to be stranded overseas.

Read more: Yemen's No Fly Zone: Thousands of Yemenis are Stranded Abroad

Internet blocks

Just days after Saudi Arabia began airstrikes, Yemen's largest Internet service provider, Yemen Net, appears to have blocked several major news and media websites.

Houthis took control of state media in January, an act strongly condemned by the United Nations. This is one of the first documented instances of broad-based online censorship since the rebel group ousted the nation's president and cabinet in January.

The local chapter of the Internet Society (ISOC) for Yemen posted calls on both their Facebook and Twitter accounts asking followers to identify all websites that were inaccessible. Thus far, news sites including Mareb PressYemen VoiceSahafa NetAl-Sahwa Net and Yemen Press appear to have been blocked.

False hope

Saudi Arabia announced on April 21 that it is ending its airstrikes on Yemen after “achieving its military goals.” Iranian newspaper Vatan Emrooz published on its front page a caption that read, “Operation ‘Hurricane Certainty’ ends after 27 days of crime and infanticide without achieving any of its goals.”

But the bombing continued.

The coalition

Gulf Arab countries participating in the Saudi-led coalition stepped up the war on anti-war activists in the region. Both Kuwait and Bahrain  jailed activists for speaking up against the war on Yemen.

Read more: Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia Silence Anti-War Voices on Yemen

Egyptians turned to social media to voice their refusal of any involvement in the war on Yemen. Their voices fell on deaf ears.

Read more: Egypt's Vietnam: Why Egyptians Are Opposed to a War in Yemen

Sudan switched sides from being an Iranian ally, to waging war against the Houthis with Saudi Arabia on Yemen.

Read more: Sudan Turns Back on Iran, Joins Saudi Arabia's War on Yemen

After days of debate, Pakistan's parliament decided unanimously in favor of a resolution that “Pakistan should maintain neutrality” in Yemen and not join the Saudi coalition.

Rise of the Houthis

Yemen, often described as a “failed state”, became a country without a president and a government, when the Houthis took over the capital.  Even Yemenis were shocked.

The Houthi uprising against the government started in 2004. Since then, Yemen's power center in Sana'a has alleged that the Houthis want to overthrow them and implement Shia religious law. The Houthis have maintained that they are “defending their community against discrimination” and government aggression.

Most Houthis adhere to a branch of Shia Islam called Zaidism. Zaidis make up one-third of Yemen's population and ruled North Yemen for almost 1,000 years until 1962.

Yemen's government under previous President Ali Abdullah Saleh and current President Hadi has accused Iran of financing the Houthi insurgency. From 2004-2010, the government brutally tried to crush their rebellion.

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