Yemen

When over $2 billion was pledged for the 2018 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan (YHRP) earlier this year, it was considered not only a success but also the best funded response plan worldwide according to anonymous aid workers who spoke to the author during the UN General Assembly. So far, 65% of the pledged funds have been delivered. The delivery of the remaining funding is expected throughout this year.

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Officials in US President Donald J. Trump’s administration have repeatedly described the ongoing conflict in Yemen as a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, hence justifying the United States siding with a country that many US officials view as “our strong ally” against Iran.

Ironically, the Yemen policy of Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, was also Iran-centric, lending the Saudi-led coalition vital logistical and intelligence support in order to get grudging support from Riyadh for his nuclear deal with Iran.  

Both administrations have been guilty of looking at Yemen solely through the prism of Iran policy. In both cases, Yemen has suffered the consequences.

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Recently the World Bank published its annual world income categorization of 189 countries and 28 other economies. Jordan, Syria, and Yemen were among the nine countries whose status climbed or fell to reflect changes in gross national income (GNI). Jordan progressed from a lower-middle income to an upper-middle income country ($3,896–$12,055 per capita). The effects of the civil wars in Syria and Yemen unsurprisingly caused the two countries to drop from lower-middle income countries ($996–$3,895 per capita) to the lowest rung on the ladder: low-income ($995 or less per capita). The deterioration of the economies of Syria and Yemen is significant. Mass displacement of populations, large reductions in production, and physical destruction have caused billions of dollars in damages. In both countries, industries that once gave people a livelihood are absent due to ongoing fighting.

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As the conflict in Yemen continues and the country’s humanitarian crisis deepens, UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, is attempting to negotiate a ceasefire for the port of Hodeida, a vital port for bringing aid and food into the famine-struck country. Earlier this month, the Saudi-led coalition began attacking the port city in response to missile attacks from the Iran-backed Houthi rebels. Taken against the recommendation of its allies such as the United States, this attack endangered the lives of many Yemenis who rely on the port for 70 percent of their food, fuel, and medicine imports. Aid organizations are struggling to deliver to the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis.” As Yemen’s war continues into its fourth year and the death toll reaches over ten thousand, Griffith’s negotiation may not only provide relief to the humanitarian crisis, but might also offer hope for a future settlement to end Yemen’s civil war.

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The assault by the United Arab Emirates’ forces and their local allies in a Saudi-led coalition on the Yemeni port city of Hudaydah that began last week and remains underway rightly raised concerns once again about the potential humanitarian consequences of Yemen’s ongoing war. Hudaydah is one of the impoverished country’s most important ports, the channel through which most international aid and imports reach Yemeni families in dire need of food, medicine, and fuel. But the discussion surrounding humanitarian aid in the Yemen war has become badly entangled in geopolitics, and it has become difficult to separate posturing on the part of the belligerent parties and wishful thinking on the part of international powers from the actual needs on the ground.

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There are three possible outcomes to the ongoing battle for Hodeida. First, the Saudi-led coalition succeeds in ousting the Houthi fighters from airport, seaport, and city. Second, the Houthi forces succeed in thwarting the land assault, but remain surrounded from the south and the east. Third, both sides accept a UN sponsored compromise, placing airport and seaport under an international force to keep the flow of humanitarian assistance going and provide a lifeline to civilians across the country. In all three options, the war continues grinding agonizingly on, though obviously the compromise option would not only provide relief to the civilian population of Hodeida, but also serve as a possible stepping stone to a broader peace agreement in the war-torn country.

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The best-selling novel “Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng provides an apt title for the next book in the long-running non-fiction history of Middle East conflicts—that which will come after US President Donald J. Trump moves to modify or nullify the Iran nuclear agreement. Those fires, not so little for those directly affected, are burning in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, and Gaza.  The challenges for US policy in the coming months will not be directly related to Iran’s nuclear program. Iran’s nuclear program poses no short-term threat. Iran will not have a nuclear weapons capability in the near future regardless of the president’s decision.  It will be the “little fires” that require more attention than ever.

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As early as 2007, while serving as Deputy Chief of Mission at the US embassy from 2004-2007, I argued that the central government needed to pay attention to legitimate grievances to prevent constant warfare in the north and a potential secession of the south. At the time, the late president Ali Abdullah Saleh prohibited foreign diplomats from visiting the Saada region in the north, claiming that security conditions made any trip there a dangerous proposition. My colleagues and I, however, frequently visited the south.  

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With one hand holding the hose for hookah and the other his beeping cell phone, a conversation with Mohammed al-Qadhi is constantly interrupted. He swiftly takes a glance at his cell phone and says, “Excuse me, it’s breaking news I must send this to my editors.” He grabs his phone and he begins tapping.

As one of Yemen’s veteran journalists and rare war correspondents, al-Qadhi has a lot on his plate. Despite spending a short vacation in Cairo, he is busy following the news, receiving calls and updates from his contacts in Yemen, and reporting to his editors at UAE-based Sky News Arabia.

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The city of Aden was ostensibly the only part of Yemen where post-conflict reconstruction was viable, especially since the area of the conflict has been declared a Houthi-free zone since July 22, 2015.  Subsequently, the residents of the city were seemingly united in that the majority are southern, Sunni, and anti-Houthi/Saleh. But now the conflict is occurring amongst Aden “allies,” not just nationally but regionally as well, as they are now divided based on the claim that President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi’s government is “corrupt.”  

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