Op-Ed

With somewhat of a long pause in the high-intensity conflict in Yemen, an all-out war appears to be daunting on the horizon again. No one can claim that they can predict anything when it comes to Yemen but with the recent escalation in the Red Sea, community tensions in Houthi-controlled areas, and the live frontlines in Marib, al Dali, Taiz, the Westcoast, and Shabwa, the risk of further escalation is seriously alarming.

Not since the start of the conflict, have we faced the risk of a full-blown war. The 9th anniversary therefore this year is particularly poignant. It is poignant not only because of the risk of returning to a high-intensity conflict but also because almost 10 years on we are almost back to square one. The fear for civilians’ lives is even more pronounced given the complicating factors on the ground, from Gaza to the number of active frontlines.

This year, the anniversary of the conflict is marked during the Islamic month of Ramadan and only few days away from the Eid celebration largely celebrated in Yemen. A famous poem by the infamous poet al Mutanabi, which seems fit for the occasion, says, “Oh Eid, what have you brought to us this year, what we have been experiencing or something new?”.  The poem is a desperate plea for a positive change while expecting the same or the worse. This sums up the impending anniversary of the armed conflict in Yemen and whether it will get better or deteriorate.

Unfortunately, the signs are not very encouraging.

The conflict continues to devastate the lives of civilians with no sign of the violence coming to an end. The attack and bombing of civilians’ homes in the city of Rada’a in Al-Bayda governorate, causing dozens of deaths and injuries including women and children in March had chilling effects and reminded us of the horrific price ordinary Yemenis pay in conflict situations. According to information, houses were destroyed while families, including women and children, were in them. While the Houthis said they have launched an investigation, there are still no mechanisms by any parties to the conflict to limit or minimize civilian harm during security and military operations. If escalation in the region continues, we can expect to see many more of these types of incidents.

The humanitarian situation in the country is not improving with more than 18 million people – over half the country’s population – in desperate need of food, water, and lifesaving assistance. About 4.5 million people remain displaced, many of whom linger in displacement sites in the most appalling conditions. In Marib governorate, which is divided by the frontline, as many as 90 percent of the population of 1.6 million people are internally displaced.

The risk of a wider conflict in Yemen comes after a period of hope when a possible peace agreement was very much on the cards. Only a few months ago organizations in Yemen such as Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) welcomed the peace talks and offered some recommendations to ensure that a national political agreement also translates at the local level where communities are the most severely affected by armed violence. I still recall our call to the parties to the conflict and the Special Envoy for the UN Secretary-General for Yemen to ensure that they do not leave local communities behind while discussing the details of a peace agreement. We have warned them about the longstanding gap between communities and security and military actors and invited them to step up dialogues to foster peace at local levels between all these actors. This sadly now appears to be a very distant memory.

If an all-out conflict erupts, it will take place during the most dire period for Yemenis.

Since the attack on al-Dhabba oil terminal in October 2022, prices have increased significantly, and the Yemeni government has not been able to export oil leading to further economic deterioration. The escalation in the Red Sea has pushed up international prices significantly further exacerbating an already dire economic situation in Yemen. If the crisis in the Red Sea continues, it will accelerate the already increased shipping costs, occasion further delivery delays, or even lead to a complete suspension of trade routes and closure of Yemeni Ports. This disruption can result in scarcity of food supplies and a subsequent increase in prices. As a result, the vulnerable population, including the poor and internally displaced, will struggle to afford essential food items. Furthermore, with the UN Humanitarian Response for Yemen being only funded at 9 percent of the requested funds, one can only imagine the level of hunger Yemen will witness this year. Besides, humanitarian organizations heavily depend on maritime routes to import food, medicine, and other essential supplies to the affected areas. Any disruption or blockage of these routes will hamper the delivery of assistance, exacerbating food insecurity among the already vulnerable population.

It is more important now than ever, with ongoing violations of international law, a severe humanitarian crisis, and risk of escalation, for parties to the conflict in Yemen to engage positively and adequately on adherence to international standards and adopt civilian harm mitigation approaches including in high-intensity conflict.

Author

Dina el-Mamoun, CIVIC’s Country Director in Yemen