SEATTLE, Washington — Images of the devastated country of Yemen are recently beginning to circulate through social media platforms, but the suffering in this Middle Eastern country is not new. Yemen’s internal and external conflict has been on an uphill trend since 2015, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). More than 24 million people in Yemen, half of those being children, are enduring one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world. In the past, few took action to provide relief, today celebrities like Mark Ruffalo are calling for an end to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen as well as urging U.S. representatives to end the war.
Yemen’s Tumultuous History Brings Devastating Crisis
When taking a closer look at the problems in Yemen, it is important to first understand the reasons behind the crisis. The tipping point occurred in 2015; however, Yemen was one of the most vulnerable countries in the Middle East even before then. Most of its citizens live in poverty without access to clean water or a stable source of nutrition.
Corruption, food insecurity and unemployment were on the rise after a failed political transition between presidents in 2011. President Hadi was unable to deal with internal conflicts and as a result, rebel groups took over the capital in early 2015, according to BBC News.
Tensions Between Muslim Sects Escalate
The rebel Shia group managed to overtake a large part of Yemen, and many believed Iran backed the group. Other Sunni Arab countries got involved in the war with an air campaign supported by the U.S., U.K. and France targeting the rebel groups. This “forgotten war” is a speculated power struggle between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia. A war expected to last only a few weeks lasted for multiple years, and the recent COVID-19 pandemic is not making matters any easier. Doubling food and fuel prices pushed more of Yemen’s population toward starvation. In January 2020, the crisis became even worse as airstrikes and fighting suddenly increased.
Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen Impacts Civilians
According to the U.N. refugee agency, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a Yemeni child dies every 10 minutes from causes that would have been avoidable under better circumstances, including malnutrition, disease and violence.
Millions of families relocated due to violence and sought shelter within the country, often building small structures out of cloth, wood and any other pieces of usable trash they can find. Since the prices of food are grossly inflated, children must look for food in piles of rubbish. Yemen is on the brink of the world’s worst famine in 100 years, yet governments are doing little to help.
Yemen During COVID-19
As described by UNICEF, the novel coronavirus created “an emergency within an emergency” in Yemen, further devastating the country. The pandemic ravaged countries all over the world and arguably had the worst effect in war-torn Yemen. The healthcare system is collapsing and millions are left to fend on their own. Yemeni doctors have not been receiving salaries for years, and they have no incentive to work. Medical facilities can barely afford gloves and masks, let alone ventilators and life-saving equipment.
Already overcrowded due to violence and a cholera outbreak across the country, hospitals are standing on their last leg as more people contract the virus. The malnourished population is extremely vulnerable to diseases, and COVID-19 could potentially “delete Yemen from maps all over the world,” as explained by Sky News.
Actor Mark Ruffalo Issues a Call to Action
Mark Ruffalo is one of the many celebrities who is using his platform to advocate for the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. He uses his voice to inform his followers about the “illegal, U.S. backed” war in Yemen. In an informational video created in 2018, Ruffalo explains that the U.S. government has been providing Saudi Arabia with “fighter planes, missiles, training … and fuel” and even “actively assists with target selection for Saudi airstrikes.”
Ruffalo goes on to tell viewers that this is a U.S. war in Yemen unapproved by Congress. He urges his audience to call their representatives in support of the bipartisan effort of Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Mike Lee, who launched an effort to expose the war in Yemen and shut it down as quickly as possible. Other celebrities like Charles Dance, Annie Lennox and Catherine Deneuve are also using their platforms to tell the U.S., U.K and French governments to stop fueling the war in Yemen with the hashtag #YemenCantWait.
Yemen has been suffering for years but did not make popular headlines until recent social media circulation. Many Americans were unaware of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen or the involvement of U.S. made weapons. The country is on the brink of extinction and now more than ever the world needs celebrities like Mark Ruffalo and others to join forces and spread awareness about the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Through advocacy and information, there is high hope that the war in Yemen will soon end.
– Karin Filipova