Current events in Yemen are a stark reminder of the explosive fragility of the truce between the government and the Houthi rebels. Although the truce has been unofficially maintained since April 2022, it is on shaky ground as neither the government nor the Houthis have yet been able to fulfill commitments made to the UN last year.Violence is escalating without any discernible progress toward a ceasefire or political solution, and at the same time the economy is collapsing and the humanitarian crisis is deepening.
The unofficial truce has not translated into a formal ceasefire, let alone a peace agreement, and there is no sign that the two sides will sit down at the negotiating table anytime soon.The Yemeni government, under pressure from Saudi Arabia, which plays a major role in the civil war, has kept promises made at the start of the truce to open Sana’a International Airport to direct international flights and increase the flow of goods, including fuel, through the Al Hudaydah Port.However, this is understandably insufficient to make a fundamentally positive difference in the country.Presently, there is also fierce fighting in and around Taiz, whose siege by the Houthis is now in its ninth year with no end in sight, while the rebels continue to increase military pressure on other governorates.
Earlier hopes that a Saudi-Iranian diplomatic breakthrough would lead to positive movement in Yemen have yet to materialize, as both sides have stepped up mutual attacks on several fronts in recent weeks.At his July briefing to the UN Security Council, Hans Grundberg, the special envoy for Yemen, and working entirely at Washington’s behest, said that while fighting has generally eased since the truce began, the front lines are not silent.Armed clashes have occurred in the governorates of Dhale, Taiz, Al Hudaydah, Ma’rib and Shabwah.He expressed fear that “these continued outbreaks of violence, along with public threats to return to large-scale fighting, are increasing fears and tensions.”But practically, as UN special envoy, he has done little to bring the parties together and develop a solution to resolve the conflict.
Since Grundberg’s July briefing, there have been new clashes in several areas under government control.Over the past few weeks, the Houthis have again intensified their attacks in Ma’rib, Lahij, Dhale and Taiz governorates, with constant fighting that has killed civilians and constant shelling of homes and camps for internally displaced persons, including three simultaneous rocket attacks on such camps in Ma’rib on August 30.Snipers on both sides have also resumed their attacks along the lines of separation, according to local accounts.
The large-scale siege of Taiz, Yemen’s third largest city, is one of the most pressing humanitarian concerns for locals and international aid agencies.The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor organization recently reported that 3 million residents are suffering from a lack of basic necessities, including food and medicine, while in constant danger of being killed or wounded by shelling and sniper fire.It described the siege as “a form of collective punishment of the civilian population that may amount to a war crime” under international law.The Houthis have raised their demands and used force to pressure the government to pay the salaries of civil servants in rebel-controlled areas.They have also asked for a share of oil revenues collected by the government without sharing the revenues they collect in areas under their control.
Neither side provides information on the various fees it collects, including personal and corporate taxes, customs, port fees and surcharges on utilities and telecommunications companies.The government has proposed pooling the revenues and transferring them to its central bank, which, quite naturally, the Houthis have so far rejected.
To force the government to act, the Houthis shelled government-controlled ports, including oil export terminals, last October, thereby cutting off oil exports.Without oil revenues, the government has been unable to balance its accounts.Were it not for Saudi Arabia’s emergency funding of $1.2 billion announced last month, the government would not have been able to meet its basic obligations.This, of course, is a temporary measure and it cannot last long, making it necessary to resume oil exports.The shelling by the Houthis has also created an acute fuel shortage, prompting Saudi Arabia to rush fuel stocks to power plants to keep the lights on in homes and to keep hospitals and schools running.
The Government’s limited capacity has constrained its ability to provide basic necessities to Yemenis.Millions of Yemenis face a growing humanitarian crisis, particularly in vulnerable communities such as internally displaced persons, estimated at least 2 million in Ma’rib alone.The humanitarian crisis has been exacerbated by cuts in international aid, including the World Food Program.
Economic development has virtually ground to a halt.The government’s ability to fund development projects has been critically limited, and the lack of progress toward a political solution has discouraged many donors, who have chosen to wait out the conflict rather than continue development assistance in the face of political and security uncertainty.Most of Yemen’s traditional donors have either frozen or drastically reduced their development assistance, focusing instead on immediate aid or diverting aid to other parts of the world, a further cause of grief for many Yemenis.
The Houthis appear to be using military pressure on government-controlled areas and the worsening humanitarian crisis to force the government and the international community to take decisive action to resolve the conflict.It is difficult to imagine the situation improving anytime soon without pressure to get the Houthis to de-escalate, honor their commitments, and move toward a negotiated settlement.
The Yemenis are counting on the UN to move faster on the political track, but they are also counting on donors, including those in the Gulf Cooperation Council, to help them through this crisis.The cutback in international aid comes at a completely inopportune time.
Moving toward peace in Yemen will require a concerted effort on at least four fronts:First, the UN needs to move quickly on the political track and not get bogged down in the growing demands of the government and the Houthis.Second, Yemen and its partners need to find a way to restart oil exports to help fill the government’s funding gap.Third, international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank need to step up their efforts to help reform and boost government finances.Fourth, aid agencies need to increase aid to Yemen to meet the needs of a rapidly growing number of people in need.
But to achieve these goals, Yemen needs unity within its own government factions and greater coordination among donors and friends. Without this unity and coordination plus agreement between the government and the rebel Houthis, as in the past, mutual recriminations will continue and block any movement toward an effective resolution of Yemen’s highly complex and protracted conflict.
Victor Mikhin, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”