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Yemen: Recent uptick in fighting contradicts desire for peace

A young boy stands in front of damaged building in Saada, Yemen.
WFP/Fares Khoailed
A young boy stands in front of damaged building in Saada, Yemen.

Yemen: Recent uptick in fighting contradicts desire for peace

Peace and Security

A recent escalation in fighting between warring parties in Yemen contradicts their stated desire to peacefully end nearly five years of conflict, UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths said in a briefing to the Security Council on Tuesday. 

Over the past month, both the Government and Ansar Allah forces have announced expansive military goals, accompanied by fierce rhetoric, he reported, with heavy fighting occurring in three governorates that mostly had been quiet in recent years.  

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“The parties have reassured me many times of their belief in a peaceful, political solution to this conflict. But peace cannot be taken for granted. It requires continuous commitment and the nurturing of a political process to make it happen. The escalation…directly contradicts the parties’ desire to move in that direction,” said Mr. Griffiths, speaking via videoconference from Geneva. 

The envoy was also concerned that the violence could threaten vulnerable progress made in the port city of Hudaydah, where a 2018 agreement reached in Sweden has led to a decrease in military operations, thus ensuring the flow of humanitarian aid and commercial goods into the country. 

Turning to another concern, Mr. Griffiths reminded the Council of the deteriorating SAFER oil tanker located off the coast of Yemen, warning that any rupture could spill over a million barrels of oil into the Red Sea. 

“This threat…must be dealt with on a purely technical basis, without politicization,” he advised.  

“The United Nations is committed, ready, prepared to send objective, technical experts to undertake an assessment and initial repair, to be immediately followed by permanent arrangements to address the threat and make that vessel safe.” 

Progress in confidence building 

Despite what the UN envoy described as the “unremittingly dire” military situation in Yemen, the sides have achieved progress in confidence building. 

Following seven days of talks in Jordan, which ended this past Sunday, they reached a deal on prisoner exchange in line with the Stockholm Agreement.  

Another sign of hope was the launch of medical air bridge flights to transport patients for treatment abroad. While 28 people were flown out of the capital, Sana’a, this month, thousands more remain. 

The UN’s top humanitarian official also welcomed this development, while also pressing for a more “sustainable” solution. 

Mark Lowcock added that the rise in hostilities, as mentioned by the UN envoy, has displaced 35,000 people since January. 

Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, briefs the UN Security Council members on the situation in the Yemen.
UN Photo/Manuel Elías
Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, briefs the UN Security Council members on the situation in the Yemen.


“This escalation, in addition to clashes in other places, has reversed the trend towards decreasing civilian casualties that we had seen in previous months,” he said, with160 people killed or wounded nationwide in January. 

“For months, I have called for a nationwide ceasefire. This call is even more urgent today when the violence, as Martin has said, is at a very real risk of spiralling out of control.” 

Yemen remains the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with roughly 80 per cent of the population – some 24 million citizens – relying on aid relief provided by UN agencies and their partners. 

However, Mr. Lowcock reported that humanitarian space there is “narrowing from all directions” as both the Government and Ansar Allah have put up regulatory roadblocks.  Aid agencies also cannot adjust their programmes to reflect current needs as key assessments cannot be fully carried out. 

“So far, we have not heard reports of famine-like conditions returning in high-risk areas.  In late 2018, we heard such reports from many sources even before the formal assessments had been completed,” he said. 

“I believe that high levels of aid delivery have helped.  But of course, without the assessments, we cannot be confident of the position.” 

Fragile confidence 

As the UN envoy told ambassadors, progress on the humanitarian front – as evidenced by the medical transports – indicates that Yemen’s rival sides can work together.   

“My fear is that this confidence, this trust, these relationships, are becoming increasingly fragile,” he cautioned. 

Mr. Griffiths reiterated the UN position that the conflict cannot be resolved through military measures.   Rather, peace can only emerge from a political compromise between the parties, through a process mediated by the UN. This engagement must be unconditional. 

The Special Envoy and his team are actively working towards this goal, which seeks to bring about a Yemen that is free of conflict, and with a genuinely inclusive Government. 

Said Mr. Griffiths: “Hesitance on the political track allows the war drums to beat louder and allows provocations to spiral and to multiply. The hard work that the parties have done is at grave risk of being undone. The parties must display the courage that I know they have to set aside short-term military goals and make a sustained, tangible and irreversible commitment to the political process.”