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A Modern-Day Tragedy: What is Happening in Yemen?

by Didem ÖZÇAKIR

Either in the news or social media, we see that there is an ongoing war in Yemen. Aside from knowing why there is a war in this Middle Eastern country, most of us do not even know where Yemen is. However, it is a fact that one of the worst humanitarian crises of the modern world is now taking place in this country. Having cost thousands of lives and a nation's future, what is the story behind this civil war?

The conflict has its roots in 2011, Arab Spring. Ali Abdullah Saleh was an authoritarian president and was in office since 1990. The uprisings in the country in 2011 forced Saleh to hand over his power to his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. Having taken over the position of the president, Hadi had a country that needed immediate reforms in hand. While a part of the military and other security forces were still loyal to Saleh, Hadi had to deal with attacks from jihadists, corruption, food insecurity, and separatist movements. This political instability led to several groups gaining power in the country, most notable of them being the Houthis.

The Houthi movement generally consists of the Shia minority in Yemen. The movement had already initiated a series of rebellions against Ali Abdullah Saleh in the previous decades. Following Saleh's replacement by Hadi, they took control of Saada province and the neighboring northern area of the country. Their power, influence, and territorial gains increased gradually. As they had support coming from the ordinary citizens of Yemen, including the Sunnis, the Houthi movement eventually took control of the country's capital Sanaa in September 2014. Mansour Hadi's government declared Aden to be the temporary capital.

In this process, decade long enemies the Houthi movement and Ali Abdullah Saleh openly allied as they both had the aim of gaining power against the internationally recognized president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. With this cooperation, Houthis gained access to the military and security forces loyal to Saleh. They attempted to take control of all of the country and forced Hadi to resign and escape Yemen in 2015. 


The escalation between the Houthis and the government of Hadi also had consequences in the international landscape. It is believed that Iran is supporting the Shia Houthi forces militarily by the Sunni Arab states. Thus, in order to prevent an Iran backed Shia group from gaining power in the country Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other Sunni Arab states formed an air coalition directed at Houthi forces in Yemen. They had the aim of restoring the Hadi government and ending the Iranian influence in Yemen. This Saudi led Sunni-Arab coalition received military support from the Western powers of the US, UK, and France. The coalitions forces landed in Aden in August 2015 and repelled Houthi forces from most of the southern part of the country.

In December 2017 Saleh declared his withdrawal from the coalition with the Houthis. After his withdrawal, he again sided with his former enemies, namely Hadi, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. As a result, Houthis accused Saleh of treason and he was found dead days after. Houthis admitted having executed the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

In June 2018, the coalition attempted to take control of the coastal city of Hudaydah by launching a major offensive against the Houthis. As the city provided the basic supplies to the two-thirds of the Yemeni population, the United Nations warned the port's destruction would mean massive life loss due to famines.

The most successful and prevalent deployment of this system can be found in Japan. In Japan, this system is called Earthquake Early Warning (EEW). Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) has 4,235 seismometers that transmit real-time earthquake information. This information is constantly analyzed by JMA and in case of an earthquake, JMA sends an alert to broadcasters, phone service providers, utility companies, and more informing them of an incoming earthquake alongside with which prefectures will be affected by the earthquake. This information is followed by the earthquake’s intensity felt by each prefecture and a tsunami alert if the data provided by the seismographs suggests a tsunami is imminent. Because the time window between the arrival of the warning and the tremor is so narrow, the alerts must be as plain and effective as possible. For this reason, EEW alerts are much simpler compared to emergency alerts from the US or Canada. Phones sound a quick siren and scream “Earthquake!” and television and radio stations play two sets of chimes followed by this voice announcement: "This is an Earthquake Early Warning. Please prepare for powerful tremors.” In case a tsunami is coming TVs are woken up from their sleep mode using signals and are automatically tuned into NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster. 

Japan is not the only country to have a similar system. Taiwan also has a nationwide earthquake warning system. Mexico and Romania have employed systems that cover some regions of their land. The US and Canada are developing and testing systems that would cover their west coast.


In fact, Turkey has some sort of earthquake warning system too! Boğaziçi University has put together a network of 130 stations around İstanbul in 2001 to warn people of a possible earthquake. Despite the system being built, there are significant problems like underfunding, lack of government support, and the unwillingness of local authorities to integrate their systems to receive alerts from this system. Even though the project was started as cooperation of Boğaziçi University and the Turkish Government, the Government has repeatedly refused to fund or support the project, and not much about the system can be found online aside from a webpage of Boğaziçi University explaining it.

After a 5.8 earthquake that struck off the coast of İstanbul in September 2019, the newly elected mayor of İstanbul Ekrem İmamoğlu proposed reviving the system and letting the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality utilize it in anticipation of a much bigger and devastating earthquake that has been expected for two decades. İmamoğlu claimed the system would give the Municipality 7-8 seconds to stop Metro trains and cut natural gas lines. It is still unclear whether his plan includes alerts to the general public through cell phone networks or broadcast stations. (1) (2)

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