.
T

he ongoing crisis in Yemen today reflects a blatant and abject failure of the international community and regional actors to address the suffering of those trapped within the conflict. A major gap exists between humanitarian realities on the ground and rhetoric from major donors, particularly with respect to aid pledges and the flow of arms into the poor Gulf country. Such issues can be resolved but require true engagement and a proactive approach to addressing the needs of civilians in Yemen and ultimately peace.

Yemen currently constitutes one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters according to the United Nations. Presently, 24.1 million people, or roughly 80% of the Yemeni population, require humanitarian assistance. This includes 10.2 million children who lack access to basic healthcare services. These numbers continue to increase as organizations lose funding necessary to provide services.

The conflict includes multiple internal actors such as the internationally recognized Yemen government and the Zaydi Shiite Houthi Movement (Ansar Allah). Regional actors are also heavily involved in sponsoring the various groups fighting in Yemen, with Saudi Arabia backing the official Yemeni government and Iran supporting the Houthi rebels.

The Saudi-led coalition, supported by United States arms sales and training, has conducted a brutal air campaign in Yemen since 2015, notoriously striking military and civilian infrastructure in an attempt to support the official government. Iran is accused of bankrolling the Houthi rebels with funds and arms in defiance of an official UN arms embargo.

Disease and food insecurity have been exacerbated during the war, harming human security and peace prospects today. Over two-thirds of the population are food insecure. Yemen is also experiencing the worst cholera outbreak in modern history, with 110,000 confirmed cases in April. The effects of this outbreak are compounded by the spread of COVID-19, with reports suggesting a death rate five-times higher than the global average. Reporting COVID-19 is incredibly low in the country, in part due to a lack of tests and Houthi refusal to acknowledge the disease.

International organizations such as UNICEF have garnered minimal assistance in their calls for funding to support programs that keep millions alive. This includes funding for basic water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) programming that has provided safe water supply systems for over 5 million people since 2018. It also includes funding for the World Food Programmes’s (WFP) in-kind food assistance projects that provide over 12 million people with food distributions and vouchers.

While the situation in the country is grim, steps can be taken by the international community to coordinate a coherent response that saves lives. Such a response includes a combination of economic and diplomatic tools that can be applied to pressure the various groups involved in the conflict towards peace, while also aiding a desperate populace.

First, the international community will need to immediately address the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Yemen. Outside of humanitarian considerations, there are real risks to further destabilization in Yemen and beyond if this crisis is allowed to continue to spiral out of control. Upticks in violence due to a lack of basic resources will have spillover effects that will impact neighboring countries in the Gulf and Horn of Africa for decades. Yemen cannot be allowed to fall into a state of disrepair like Somalia, or to a lesser extent Iraq, as it will become a breeding ground for sustained extremism and violence.

The United Nations and its members should work to fill funding gaps outlined by the various UN agencies. A focus should be placed on funding immediate programmatic needs first, particularly related to UNICEF’s WASH and the WFP’s food assistance programming that are slated to run out of funds before the end of the year.

Further, states must remove political interests from humanitarian aid activities. This includes the United States, which ended aid dissemination to Houthi-controlled areas months ago. On top of this, Saudi Arabia and its coalition members must finally send the long-delayed aid they pledged at the beginning of the year.

Second, pressure must be applied to the Yemeni government, Houthi Movement, Southern Transition Council (STC), and other various warring internal parties towards peace and stability. On one hand, diplomatic pressure from security council members and major arms dealers designed to harm the reputation of Saudi Arabia and its coalition allies can project a unified front against their actions.

More importantly, it will also apply pressure on Mohammad Bin Salman and his strategy to modernize Saudi Arabia. MBS has worked to present a more tolerant Saudi Arabia to promote business investment and tourism via recent progressive policies. As I have previously argued, the use of diplomatic tools to harm the depiction of progress is impactful on Saudi Arabia and can influence decisions for a country looking to exit the prolonged conflict in the first place.

On the other hand, economic tools designed to threaten future weapons sales to the various Saudi-coalition members can promote genuine efforts to end the fighting. While it is unlikely that weapons sales to the Gulf states will completely end, they can be used to pressure foreign policy decisions towards a sustainable ceasefire and eventual peace in Yemen.

The benefits of such an approach can be immense if applied swiftly in coordination with other states, as it is difficult for a nation to shift military weapons systems and takes significant time. The United States can single-handedly cripple the Saudi war machine by threatening to pull the plug on military aid and should take the lead in doing so alongside its allies. Conditioning arms sales on responsible military conduct, outside of honoring basic humanitarian principles, equates to effective foreign policy that can pressure the nations bankrolling the various groups to call for peace.

These are practical steps that can be promoted by the UN and applied by its various members. The Yemeni people are out of time and need assistance now. Anything short of this will end in continued tragedy and potentially millions of lives lost.

About
Alexander J. Langlois
:
Alexander Langlois has years of experience working for NGOs on policy analysis, research, and program management related to governance, conflict, and stabilization. Today, he works as a researcher in the U.S.-Sudan Initiative to promote peace in Sudan.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

a global affairs media network

www.diplomaticourier.com

Time for a Proactive Approach to Yemen’s Conflict

The city of Sana’a in Yemen. Photo by Aneta Ribarska via Wikimedia Commons. CC.

October 16, 2020

T

he ongoing crisis in Yemen today reflects a blatant and abject failure of the international community and regional actors to address the suffering of those trapped within the conflict. A major gap exists between humanitarian realities on the ground and rhetoric from major donors, particularly with respect to aid pledges and the flow of arms into the poor Gulf country. Such issues can be resolved but require true engagement and a proactive approach to addressing the needs of civilians in Yemen and ultimately peace.

Yemen currently constitutes one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters according to the United Nations. Presently, 24.1 million people, or roughly 80% of the Yemeni population, require humanitarian assistance. This includes 10.2 million children who lack access to basic healthcare services. These numbers continue to increase as organizations lose funding necessary to provide services.

The conflict includes multiple internal actors such as the internationally recognized Yemen government and the Zaydi Shiite Houthi Movement (Ansar Allah). Regional actors are also heavily involved in sponsoring the various groups fighting in Yemen, with Saudi Arabia backing the official Yemeni government and Iran supporting the Houthi rebels.

The Saudi-led coalition, supported by United States arms sales and training, has conducted a brutal air campaign in Yemen since 2015, notoriously striking military and civilian infrastructure in an attempt to support the official government. Iran is accused of bankrolling the Houthi rebels with funds and arms in defiance of an official UN arms embargo.

Disease and food insecurity have been exacerbated during the war, harming human security and peace prospects today. Over two-thirds of the population are food insecure. Yemen is also experiencing the worst cholera outbreak in modern history, with 110,000 confirmed cases in April. The effects of this outbreak are compounded by the spread of COVID-19, with reports suggesting a death rate five-times higher than the global average. Reporting COVID-19 is incredibly low in the country, in part due to a lack of tests and Houthi refusal to acknowledge the disease.

International organizations such as UNICEF have garnered minimal assistance in their calls for funding to support programs that keep millions alive. This includes funding for basic water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) programming that has provided safe water supply systems for over 5 million people since 2018. It also includes funding for the World Food Programmes’s (WFP) in-kind food assistance projects that provide over 12 million people with food distributions and vouchers.

While the situation in the country is grim, steps can be taken by the international community to coordinate a coherent response that saves lives. Such a response includes a combination of economic and diplomatic tools that can be applied to pressure the various groups involved in the conflict towards peace, while also aiding a desperate populace.

First, the international community will need to immediately address the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Yemen. Outside of humanitarian considerations, there are real risks to further destabilization in Yemen and beyond if this crisis is allowed to continue to spiral out of control. Upticks in violence due to a lack of basic resources will have spillover effects that will impact neighboring countries in the Gulf and Horn of Africa for decades. Yemen cannot be allowed to fall into a state of disrepair like Somalia, or to a lesser extent Iraq, as it will become a breeding ground for sustained extremism and violence.

The United Nations and its members should work to fill funding gaps outlined by the various UN agencies. A focus should be placed on funding immediate programmatic needs first, particularly related to UNICEF’s WASH and the WFP’s food assistance programming that are slated to run out of funds before the end of the year.

Further, states must remove political interests from humanitarian aid activities. This includes the United States, which ended aid dissemination to Houthi-controlled areas months ago. On top of this, Saudi Arabia and its coalition members must finally send the long-delayed aid they pledged at the beginning of the year.

Second, pressure must be applied to the Yemeni government, Houthi Movement, Southern Transition Council (STC), and other various warring internal parties towards peace and stability. On one hand, diplomatic pressure from security council members and major arms dealers designed to harm the reputation of Saudi Arabia and its coalition allies can project a unified front against their actions.

More importantly, it will also apply pressure on Mohammad Bin Salman and his strategy to modernize Saudi Arabia. MBS has worked to present a more tolerant Saudi Arabia to promote business investment and tourism via recent progressive policies. As I have previously argued, the use of diplomatic tools to harm the depiction of progress is impactful on Saudi Arabia and can influence decisions for a country looking to exit the prolonged conflict in the first place.

On the other hand, economic tools designed to threaten future weapons sales to the various Saudi-coalition members can promote genuine efforts to end the fighting. While it is unlikely that weapons sales to the Gulf states will completely end, they can be used to pressure foreign policy decisions towards a sustainable ceasefire and eventual peace in Yemen.

The benefits of such an approach can be immense if applied swiftly in coordination with other states, as it is difficult for a nation to shift military weapons systems and takes significant time. The United States can single-handedly cripple the Saudi war machine by threatening to pull the plug on military aid and should take the lead in doing so alongside its allies. Conditioning arms sales on responsible military conduct, outside of honoring basic humanitarian principles, equates to effective foreign policy that can pressure the nations bankrolling the various groups to call for peace.

These are practical steps that can be promoted by the UN and applied by its various members. The Yemeni people are out of time and need assistance now. Anything short of this will end in continued tragedy and potentially millions of lives lost.

About
Alexander J. Langlois
:
Alexander Langlois has years of experience working for NGOs on policy analysis, research, and program management related to governance, conflict, and stabilization. Today, he works as a researcher in the U.S.-Sudan Initiative to promote peace in Sudan.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.