Silent but Deadly: American Involvement in Yemen’s Humanitarian Crisis


Anna Rakich, Franklin and Marshall College

Amongst the rubble of a crumbling Yemen lies the empty casings of American bullets. The country has suffered for years from a devastating humanitarian crisis, leaving the Yemeni people politically divided and malnourished to the brink of death. The UN and other non-governmental humanitarian organizations have tried to aid the country, but to no avail. This is because the countries attempting to help are the ones responsible.

What Happened in Yemen?

According to BBC News, Yemen is by far the poorest country in the Middle East, with a GDP per capita of $2,500. The same report states that even before the war, people were suffering from lack of access to water, which resulted in almost half the country living below the poverty line. Political unrest ensued following the transition of power from authoritarian leader Ali Abdullah Saleh to democratically elected President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi in 2011.

The new president struggled to deal with terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and previous leader Saleh’s loyal military officers, as well as humanitarian issues such as high poverty rates and lack of essential resources. This caused the rise of a group called the Houthi, whose goal was to disrupt President Hadi’s internationally recognized government and return to Yemen’s previous authoritarian regime.

But Yemen can not afford to return to its former government. The government would once again exploit the people for its own benefit, and continue to ignore serious economic and humanitarian issues. It would also be a major step back for Yemen’s slow transition to democracy.

The rebels, allegedly backed by Iran, were able to gain enough power to seize Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. President Hadi was forced to flee the country, causing the government to disintegrate. As a result, neighboring country Saudi Arabia sent in a military coalition, backed by the United States and the United Kingdom, to attempt to help the Yemeni government prevent insurgency.

However, the Saudi coalition has only exacerbated Yemen’s political, economic, and humanitarian problems. As a result of their extreme measures, 80% of the country’s population is now in severe need of humanitarian aid. The coalition has made it very difficult to import food into the country, due to a naval embargo placed on major ports. People are being forced to drink water from untreated sources, which has caused outbreaks of life-threatening diseases, such as cholera. There is no access to medical care. Almost three million people are displaced. Yemen is in dire need of humanitarian aid.


Sadly, most NGO’s have suspended their projects due to major security issues and an inability to physically deliver the aid. In 2016 only 58% of the budget allotted by the UN was fulfilled. This means that major economic players in the UN, such as the United States, are not fulfilling their promises to help sustain Yemen’s population. At the same time, these Great Powers are also undermining Yemen’s self sufficiency just enough that they can indirectly control political and military decisions within the country. This is morally wrong.

The United States Is Indirectly Responsible

Saudi Arabia is a major ally of the United States, politically and economically, but at what cost?

The Saudi coalition has gone to some drastic and controversial measures to control the insurgency. In October, Saudi Arabia dropped cluster bombs manufactured in the U.S on a funeral ceremony in Sana’a, killing 140 people and injuring many more. This is a war crime, and an embarrassment on behalf of the United States. The most outrageous part is that the United States has denied responsibility in the war. We are the ones supplying the Saudi coalition with arms, therefore we are indirectly responsible. Despite the United States and the United Kingdom being two major contributors to foreign aid, not enough is being done to control the actions of the Saudi coalition. Although we may not be the ones pulling the trigger, we supply the guns that do the killing.

An attempt to help restore a fractured government has backfired and divided the people of Yemen. Innocent people have just become collateral damage. The death count is rising, and instead of helping the people, we are risking our own integrity by indirectly abetting Saudi-led war crimes. Before we realize, Yemen will become the next Syria.

“Yemen Overview”, by World Bank Staff. The World Bank.

“What You Need to Know About the Crisis in Yemen”, by Joseph Hincks. TIME Inc.

“Yemen Conflict: UN Launches $2.1bn Aid Appeal Amid Famine Threat”, by BBC Staff. BBC News.
“Yemen conflict: How bad is the humanitarian crisis?”, by BBC staff. BBC News.

“Yemen crisis: Who is fighting whom?”, by BBC Staff. BBC News.