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The Saudi Blockade in Yemen: Regional Causes and Civilian Effects

Since 2015, a Saudi-led coalition has been engaged in an interminable conflict with Houthi forces and their allies, in Yemen. The coalition includes nations such as the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Egypt, and is supported by nations such as the United Kingdom, Turkey, and the United States. In addition to the complex war waged, Saudi Arabia implemented a week-long blockade intended to aggressively target Houthi forces. The blockade effectively shut off access to Yemen via Houthi-controlled ports, including the one at Hodeidah. It also grounded flights to and from the airport located in Sanaa, Yemen. This significant action was made in response to attempted missile attack on Saudi Arabia on November 4. Saudi Arabian officials have purported that the missile was launched from Yemen and was directed towards the King Khalid International Airport in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi military intercepted the missile as it approached its target. 

   
  
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    Photograph: AFP

Photograph: AFP

Importantly, both Saudi Arabia and the United States comdemned Iran for the attempted missile attack. This narrative directly blames Iran for the aggression, as both nations claim that Iranian military and financial support ultimately provided Houthi rebels with the means to launch the attack. Notably, U.S. Lt. Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian publicly stated that there were “Iranian markings” on the actual missile. Iran has contested this information, along with the broader narrative disseminated. Bahram Qassemi, the spokesperson for the Iranian foreign ministry, employed strong rhetoric in doing so. Qassemi made comments in a statement released by the ministry, noting that “[the] Yemeni response is an independent one and a result of Saudi Arabia’s aggression, one which is not carried out or provoked by any other country.” Frankly, this complicated back-and-forth is only a symptom of the broader state of disarray that continues to characterize regional politics and the war itself.

   
  
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  Photograph: Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images

Photograph: Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images

While the international community continues to scrutinize the incident, the blockade implemented continues to produce real consequences for the Yemeni people. According to Reuters, the blockade compounded the humanitarian crisis resulting from the war that has led to a famine inflicting severe hunger upon approximately 7 million people. The famine also killed more than 10,000 people. Save the Children, a prominent international, non-governmental organization (NGO), has estimated that approximately 130 children die each day as a result of extreme hunger and disease due to the conflict. According to the NGO, the initial projection that 50,000 Yemeni children will die this year would be surpassed from the blockade. The NGO has publicly stated that severe malnutrition is the most extreme form of under-nutrition. It emphasized that this condition would only be exacerbated by hindrances put in place.

   
  
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    Photograph: Yahya Arab/EPA

Photograph: Yahya Arab/EPA

What’s more, Human Rights Watch, another prominent NGO, has declared that nearly 80% of commercial and humanitarian imports enter Yemen through two ports. With such statistical evidence heavily publicized, the Saudi regime and coalition members essentially had no politically beneficial option available aside from ceasing the blockade, which certainly makes a difference. Most importantly, the Yemeni people have regained access to key imports and aid. Still, it is imperative to note the initial disregard for civilian life inherent to the implementation of the blockade. Moreover, the ways in which civilians have been forced to endure the severe consequences of the broader conflict for the past two years speak to the need for a much larger shift in the status quo.