Written by Staff Writer by Oliver Darcy, CNN
Yemen has faced humanitarian catastrophe since 2014, when a coalition of Arab states launched a military campaign to reinstate former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was ousted in the Arab Spring.
The war has resulted in mass starvation and a devastating economic crisis — the most severe famine the world has seen since the 1980s, with the United Nations reporting at least 22 million people are in need of aid.
Now, towards the end of 2018, the air war has escalated considerably. On December 21, Yemeni warplanes destroyed an oil pipeline supplying fuel to Iran, which Yemen’s state news agency cited as an attack launched by the Houthi Ansarullah movement. The United States, Britain and Saudi Arabia have all backed the Yemen-led coalition.
Yemeni forces backed by the coalition also claimed they hit five Houthi targets last week, including missile launchers and a military base. The Houthis said they had a warning from coalition warplanes that threatened to attack on December 15 and 6, and on December 22.
CNN was told that troops loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh have seized control of Saleh’s hometown, Marib, nearly a week after they ousted Houthi forces, which control most of Yemen.
News of the breakdown of peace talks between Yemen’s Houthi rebels and the Hadi government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi was reported this week by the state-run Saba news agency. Talks in Kuwait broke down earlier this month, when the Houthis demanded that the government strip Houthi militants of their title as rebels.
Yemen’s former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his supporters in Sanaa on December 21, 2018. Photo: Ammar Awad/AFP/Getty Images
Nearly one in four people in Yemen are already suffering from hunger, according to data released last year by the UN’s World Food Program (WFP).
Despite its role in the war, the Houthis had operated a thriving gas industry and had access to oil sources for commercial and military use. The coalition said it is blocking oil imports to fight the Houthis.
In Marib, a city of more than 450,000 people — around half of whom depend on aid — one hotel owner said that while oil pumps on the town’s outskirts are still working, there were no longer enough pumps in its main oil refineries to pump oil.
“The refinery still operates, and there are still some pumps in the private sector,” Adel Samer al-Hallaq told CNN, adding that there had been no similar cut in facilities around Marib.
“But right now we still don’t have any gas,” he said. “People might have to stop using gas.”
While Marib is strategically important — it lies near the strategic Bab el-Mandeb strait — it also suffered large-scale flooding and mudslides caused by the heavy rains Yemen has seen since November.
Neighbors Saudi Arabia and Oman have backed the Saudi-led coalition with troops, but as well as fuel shortages, electricity has also gone out across Marib in recent weeks, with residents increasingly forced to use candles for light.