Yemen at ‘critical juncture’ in bid to end eight-year war: UN Special Envoy
An expired truce still delivering positive results, and a recent mass prisoner exchange, are signs of hope in Yemen, but more work remains to end the war between the Saudi coalition-backed Government and Houthi rebels, UN Special Envoy Hans Grundberg told the Security Council on Monday.
“One year on since the parties agreed to a truce under UN auspices, Yemen is again at a critical juncture,” he said, speaking via videoconference.
“I believe we have not seen such a serious opportunity for making progress towards ending the conflict in eight years. But the tide could still turn unless the parties take bolder steps toward peace,” he warned.
Historic prisoner exchange
Mr. Grundberg noted that although the landmark truce ran out six months ago, it continues to deliver results, and the parties are engaging on next steps.
They have also shown that negotiation can be effective. Over the weekend, nearly 900 people from all sides, who had been detained in connection with the conflict, were released from prison – the result of meetings held last month in Switzerland under the auspices of the UN.
Meanwhile, many aspects of the landmark truce continue to be implemented, representing another encouraging sign.
Relative calm amid conflict
“Yemen is experiencing the longest period of relative calm yet in this ruinous war,” he said. “Food, fuel and other commercial ships continue to flow into Hudaydah. And commercial flights continue between Sana’a International Airport and Amman.”
However, he was adamant that this is not enough as Yemen’s people still live with unimaginable hardship. Furthermore, recent military activity in several governorates raises the potential for escalation, which could quickly reverse hard-won gains.
Engagement towards peace
Mr. Grundberg noted that while the truce was an important achievement, it was meant to be a temporary measure towards talks to end the war.
He continues engagement towards identifying a permanent ceasefire and reactivation of the political process, as well as measures to alleviate the dire economic and humanitarian situations in the country.
He added that discussions are also ongoing among Yemeni and regional stakeholders, including Saudi Arabia and Oman. The UN envoy has also welcomed a statement by Saudi and Iranian foreign ministers on enhancing cooperation on regional security, issued following a meeting in China’s capital, Beijing.
Seize the moment
Mr. Grundberg stressed that any new agreement in Yemen must be a clear step toward a Yemeni-led political process, requiring strong commitment from the parties to meet and negotiate in good faith. He acknowledged that a lot of work lies ahead to build trust and ultimately achieve peace.
“Mediation efforts will always adapt and evolve. But, if the parties allow this moment to pass by without coming to agreement, it will be truly regrettable,” he said, urging the international community to “redouble its support to ensure this delicate and rare opportunity is not lost.”
Deliver lasting peace
A top official with the UN humanitarian affairs office, OCHA, also called for seizing this “unprecedented opportunity to make more progress toward peace” in Yemen.
Ghada Eltahir Mudawi, OCHA’s Deputy Director of Operations and Advocacy, said this could dramatically improve lives and reduce suffering.
“We need urgent and unequivocal action on three points: increased funding, unimpeded access and investments to stabilize the economy. But more than anything, Yemenis need lasting peace. Now is the time to deliver it,” she said.
Outbreaks spreading rapidly
Ms. Mudawi told the Council that more than 21 million Yemenis require emergency assistance, and recent torrential rains have affected over 100,000 people, adding to the numbers.
Although the humanitarian impact has been relatively limited, worse weather is expected. Additionally, 10,000 people have been displaced by recent escalating clashes in Ma’rib and Shabwah governorates.
Meanwhile, measles, polio and other preventable diseases “are spreading at a dangerous pace”, and humanitarians fear outbreaks could deteriorate fast. This is particularly the case in Houthi-controlled areas, where there are increasing impediments to immunization, as well as misinformation that is fuelling vaccine scepticism.
Constraints and impediments
Ms. Mudawi said aid agencies are doing all they can in Yemen. Last year, they were able to avert the worst, and the number of people facing severe food insecurity even dropped from 19 million to 17 million.
She feared that these gains could be lost due to funding constraints and the challenging operating environment in the country, characterized by “large and chronic access impediments”, mainly in Houthi-controlled areas.
She said Yemeni women aid workers in these regions are currently hindered by movement restrictions, which has severely impeded the provision of critical services which only they can deliver. This has also undercut the ability reach the most vulnerable communities.
Preparing for tomorrow
Insecurity is also another challenge, with humanitarians falling victim to at least two car-jackings in recent months. Two UN staff also remain detained in Sana’a, after nearly 18 months, and five staff abducted in Abyan last year are still missing.
While funding and access are critical now, humanitarians also must prepare for the long run, which means addressing Yemen’s deteriorating economy and other underlying drivers of need, said Ms. Mudawi.
Protecting the flow of commercial imports is thus crucial. Despite a recent easing in import restrictions - which has allowed more food, fuel and other items into the country - humanitarians are concerned about continued obstructions, particularly affecting overland transport of commercial goods to Houthi-controlled areas.
Ms. Mudawi said beyond commercial imports, much more must be done to stabilize the economy, such as strengthening incomes, scaling up demining efforts and restoring basic services.
She added that the resumption of oil exports from Government-held areas is also critical, including for strengthening foreign currency reserves.