By Daniel Hurley
Just a day after the United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, told the U.N. Security Council that a ceasefire agreed to in December 2018 had deescalated the Yemeni conflict considerably, a Houthi airstrike hit a Yemeni military parade in the southern port city of Aden. Several troops from the Saudi-led coalition were killed, whom al-Masirah (a pro-Houthi news website) called “invaders and mercenaries.”
Despite the hopes raised last month that Yemen was moving towards a negotiated peace, when the internationally recognized government and Houthi rebels agreed to a prisoner swap and ceasefire in Hodeida, the conflict rages on with the humanitarian toll growing more severe by the day. In its most recent Preventive Priorities Survey, the Council on Foreign Relations listed the worsening of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen as a top tier priority for the United States in 2019. The U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, also reiterated the seriousness of the situation recently in a speech, specifically in terms of the degree to which starvation in gripping the country’s population.
Newly published statistics reveal the plight of the Yemeni people. According to the United Nations, 79% of the population is poor compared to 49% just two years ago. Of the roughly 28.5 million people living in the country, 22 million are in need of some form of humanitarian assistance, most of which concerns accessibility to clean drinking water, nutritious foods, and sanitation supplies. Alarmingly, every ten minutes a child under five in Yemen dies of preventable causes, usually do to starvation or a lack of access to medical supplies. In its totality, the humanitarian situation in Yemen is still the worst in the world.
Given the recent fracture in the fragile ceasefire agreement, the humanitarian crisis—and the human loss associated with it—will only get worse. More children will face famine, as Houthi rebels prevent needed food from being delivered to civilians in port cities. Gripped by cholera and other diseases, sickness will infiltrate communities and leave many untreated as medical supplies are stretched thin and hospitals are destroyed by airstrikes and bombings. Poverty will become more widespread, as civilians lose their jobs as places of business are destroyed and salaries decrease precipitously, thus sowing a sense of indignity in the minds of men and women who can no longer provide for their families. Overall, the crisis will continue unabated.
From a human security standpoint, ending the conflict in Yemen is as much a mission to secure regional stability as a pursuit to ensure civilian wellbeing. Without a negotiated settlement including provisions outlining measures to reduce unemployment, secure access to healthcare services, revitalize broken education systems, distribute needed food and water, and protect civilians from political retribution, Yemen will remain an insecure country even if a national government is secured and fighting between the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels ceases.
A lasting peace requires the implementation of concrete economic, political, and social reforms that alleviate the strains of war Yemen’s population has been subjected to for almost four years. Without such reforms, Yemen will remain a fractured and unstable country internally, as a continued sense of insecurity among the people will likely breed an atmosphere of fear, hopelessness, and anger that could ultimately culminate in the onset of mass protests directed at the state, crime, and terrorism as the dispossessed express their discontent in any way that will gain attention.
As U.N. Special Envoy Martin Griffiths calls for restraint amidst the recent Houthi airstrike, it remains unclear how (and if) negotiations will progress in the coming weeks and months. Crucially, if negotiators do reconvene in Stockholm, a robust effort must be made to prioritize discussions of human security issues as much as military and tactical matters in negotiations. The hope of an enduring peace in Yemen depends on it.
Daniel Hurley is a senior at The College of New Jersey, where he studies Political Science. His areas of interest are U.S.-Middle East diplomacy, human security, and conflict resolution, and he is the Journal’s Correspondent for Middle East and North African Affairs.
Image Source: http://ye.one.un.org/content/unct/yemen/en/home/news-centre/news/special-envoy-briefs-security-council-and-announces-consultations-september-geneva.html