The United Nations has upgraded the humanitarian crisis in Yemen to a Level 3 emergency, the most dire possible scenario on the UN scale. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is calling for an immediate ceasefire to allow for food, water, and medicine to enter the nation, as more than 80% of the population is entirely dependent on foreign aid to live.
According to an official UN statement:
He calls on the parties to agree, at the very minimum, on an immediate pause in hostilities until the end of the holy month of Ramadan, so that humanitarian aid can be delivered into and across Yemen and reach people cut off from vital supplies for months.
Ban described the current situation for Yemeni civilians as a “catastrophe.”
Yemen has been in a state of civil war since Iran-backed Shiite Houthi rebels overthrew Sunni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, sending him fleeing out of the capital, Sanaa, to the southern city of Aden. In response, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has launched an airstrike campaign on Houthi rebels. In the ensuing chaos, terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have grown in number.
The UN reports that at least 3,000 Yemenis have been killed in the ensuing violence, and at least one million have been displaced internally within Yemen. Twenty-one million people–80% of the population–are dependent on humanitarian aid for food and water. In addition to the desperate lack of food and potable water, disease has begun ravaging the Middle East’s poorest nation. Up to 8,000 Yemenis may have contracted Dengue fever during the span of the war, according to medical experts in the region.
Both Houthi attacks and Saudi airstrikes have killed civilians. On Wednesday, at least 31 people were confirmed dead after a Houthi missile attack in Aden. On Friday, Saudi airstrikes killed at least 16 in Sanaa, according to Houthi-controlled media, which was also targeted by airstrikes. Houthi sources tell Reuters that women and children were among the victims.
Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have also killed dozens amidst the Houthi-Sunni fighting. Al-Qaeda in Yemen, considered the most formidable wing of the terrorist organization, recently received a boon to its fighter population after 1,200 inmates escaped a prison reportedly housing a high number of jihadists. While the circumstances surrounding the prison break remain unclear, some reports suggest that prison guards ran away in fear upon seeing the mass of revolting prisoners.
The United States, Saudi Arabia’s longtime ally that has not taken on an active role in the attacks, issued a statement of “deep concern” for the situation in Yemen following the UN report. “In light of the critical humanitarian situation facing the Yemeni people, we again join the United Nations and the international community in calling for an immediate humanitarian pause,” the statement read.
In addition to al-Qaeda assaults, the Islamic State has bombed at least one Shiite mosque in response to the Houthi takeover of Yemen and is actively working to diminish al-Qaeda’s influence in the country.