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Yemen’s humanitarian catastrophe, in one chart

“The only losers are the people — their grave suffering presents generational risk to Yemen’s future,” said an expert.

Saleh al-Hadi, 50, is fitted for a prosthetic leg at a government health clinic on September 24, 2018 in Aden, Yemen.
Saleh al-Hadi, 50, is fitted for a prosthetic leg at a government health clinic on September 24, 2018, in Aden, Yemen.
Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images

The war in Yemen — a bloody, ongoing conflict in which the US has played an important role — has fallen out of the news.

But a new US intelligence report shows exactly why it shouldn’t.

The annual Worldwide Threat Assessment report — which “reflects the collective insights of the Intelligence Community” including the CIA, the National Security Agency, the FBI, and many other federal bodies — contains a chart showing just how horrifying conditions for the Yemeni people have become.

Of the nearly 29 million people in the country, about 22 million — nearly 76 percent of the population — need some form of humanitarian assistance. Among them, 16 million don’t have reliable access to drinking water or food, and more than 1 million Yemenis now suffer from cholera.

Those figures, which apparently come from US intelligence and mostly comport with publicly available numbers, show how the war has caused one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. And it’s a crisis that the United States has helped fuel.

“The only losers are the people — their grave suffering presents generational risk to Yemen’s future,” Dave Harden, a former US official leading humanitarian development response to Yemen, told me.

Worldwide Threat Assessment 2019/Office of the Director of National Intelligence

Yemen’s humanitarian crisis is horrible — and it’s likely to get worse

Since 2015, the US has backed Saudi Arabia’s coalition and supported its war in Yemen against the Houthi rebels. It has helped coalition forces push back on Iran, the Houthis’ main supplier for weapons and funds. But until last November, the US refueled Saudi warplanes that drop bombs on Yemen — many of which killed civilians, including children.

While the US has said it doesn’t do this anymore, it continues to provide other support to coalition forces including training and intelligence sharing, the Defense Department told me last November.

The war has claimed tens of thousands of lives, with estimates ranging from around 13,500 to 80,000 dead. The problem is those numbers, like the chart’s figures, are just estimates, as conditions on the ground are so bad that no one can do an official count.

What’s worse, the intelligence report — which, again, represents the consensus view of different US agencies involved in collecting and analyzing intelligence — indicates that the situation in Yemen won’t improve anytime soon. The warring parties “remain far apart in negotiating an end to the conflict, and neither side seems prepared for the kind of compromise needed to end the fighting, suggesting the humanitarian crisis will continue,” the report states.

Harden, who now runs the Georgetown Strategy Group in Washington, also noted how the document fails to mention all the other problems in Yemen. For example, the ceasefire in Hodeidah, a vital port city in western Yemen that the Houthis have controlled since 2014, is falling apart, and the economy has ground to a halt. And there are other sources of conflict in the country, like America’s efforts against ISIS and al-Qaeda.

Last November, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called for fighters to reach a peace deal by the end of the month. That, however, hasn’t happened, and Mattis — whom many saw as the driving force for ending the war and America’s involvement — is gone.

Still, Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich, a Pentagon spokesperson, told me on Wednesday that “an enduring solution will only come through a comprehensive political agreement, which will require compromise from all sides.”

Multiple congressional efforts have also failed to stop America’s involvement in the fight, and it’s unclear if another one, launched Wednesday by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), will have enough support to overcome a certain veto by President Donald Trump.

The reality, then, is that the horror in Yemen won’t get better anytime soon — meaning the report’s statistics will only become more daunting.