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Yemen Briefing by Paul Tippell, UNA Yemen Campaign Coordinator


By Paul Tippell, UNA Yemen Campaign Coordinator



Houthi Assault on Marib


  • Since the beginning of the year the Houthis have conducted a major military offensive on the Oil and Gas region of Marib, where up to 2 million internally displaced people are sheltering.[1],[2],[3]


  • The escalation in hostilities has already led to the displacement of over 13,600 people. Civilians have been targeted in over 70 incidents of armed violence – in March 40 were killed or injured. Ballistic missiles, drones and other projectiles are hammering the town and its outskirts.[4],[5]


  • ·“An assault on the city (of Marib) would put two million civilians at risk, with hundreds of thousands potentially forced to flee – with unimaginable humanitarian consequences,” said U.N aid chief Mark Lowcock.[6] “And that will be very dangerous as we see the latest COVID spike” [7]



Saudi Fuel Blockade of Hodeidah Port


  • In December 2020 the Saudis imposed a fuel blockade on shipping bond for Hodeida port in Houthi controlled territory. This is having a disastrous impact on fuel supplies for hospitals, aid transportation, water and sanitation and is pushing up food prices.[8]


  • ·The Saudis and Government of Yemen say that the Houthis were using fuel revenues to buy weapons and had reneged on an agreement to use duties to fund hospital workers and teachers (who have not been paid for years).


  • In March the UK UN Ambassador said the following at a meeting of the Security Council. “We call on the Government of Yemen to immediately approve fuel ships to enter northern ports.”[9], [10]. The UK Government is failing to put sufficient pressure on the Saudis, whose naval vessels implement the blockade.



Poor Prospects for a Ceasefire


In 2020 the Saudis have offered unilateral ceasefires on two occasions, only to be rejected by the Houthis.


Martin Griffiths, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, told the UN Security Council that six years on, there is no sense as to when the conflict (in Yemen) might end.

However, there is a fair plan on the table, frequently discussed by the parties, that favours humanitarian action and a nationwide ceasefire which would pave the way for a political solution.[1]


The Envoy said the ceasefire plan would see an end to the Saudi blockade with port revenues being used to fund government works salaries. International flights would resume at Sana’a airport.


The Saudis have accepted this plan, but the Houthis have rejected it, saying that it is old plan the blockade should end anyway on humanitarian grounds.[2]

The Houthis seem intent in taking Marib, before considering joining ceasefire talks.[3]



UK Government Failings as a Ceasefire Broker


Our view is that the Government have taken a backseat in peace brokering efforts, apparently relying completely on the UN Envoy and failing to use its position as ‘pen holder’ on the Security Council and its strong historical influence in the region.


Why isn’t the Middle East Minister and the UKs Yemen Ambassador at the forefront of efforts to engage directly with the Houthis? We understand the last Ministerial Meeting with Houthi representatives in Oman was in the Autumn of last year.[4]


Oman is regarded as a peace facilitator. When will the Foreign Secretary and ME Minister be meeting with Haitham bin Tariq Al Said to urge him to encourage the Houthis to end their offensive on Marib and agree to ceasefire talks?


Why isn’t the Foreign Secretary putting pressure on the Saudis to lift their blockade of Hodeidah Port and Sana’s airport anyway. The UK could threaten to suspend arms export licences if they fail to comply. This would call the Houthis ‘bluff’ and enable to Saudis to take the high moral ground regarding the UN ceasefire proposal.



Humanitarian Situation


  • 24.3 million people in need of humanitarian assistance -80% of the population[5]; this includes 12 million children, whose lives are a waking nightmare.[6]


  • ·Women and girls are likely to be disproportionately affected, given Yemen scores worst in the world for women’s wellbeing. One million pregnant women are malnourished, and 120,000 women and girls are at risk of violence.[7]


  • Over 4 million are internally displaced[8]


  • Yemen is heading toward the biggest famine in modern history, said the World Food Programme Director, David Beasley.


o 16 million people face crisis levels of hunger.[1]


o 5 million are on the brink of famine.


o Nearly 2.3 million children under the age of five are projected to suffer from acute malnutrition in 2021[2].


o 400,000 children will die from severe, acute malnutrition if they don’t get urgent treatment.[3]


o Children are dying of hunger at a rate of one every 75 seconds.[4]


  • Sir Mark Lowcock, Head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs told the Security Council said “About 400,000 children under the age of five are severely malnourished across the country. These are the children with distended bellies, emaciated limbs and blank stares - starving to death,” adding that, “across Yemen, more than 16 million people are going hungry, including 5 million who are just one step away from famine.”[5]



UK Aid Cuts



  • At the recent UN pledging conference the UK only pledged £87 million for Yemen. This compares with £230 m in 2018[6]. The Middle East Minister has cited UK expenditure to support the economy because of Covid pandemic to justify this massive cut in aid. Yet this relatively small amount is simply lost in accounting errors when compared with the £100 billion used to support the economy during the pandemic.[7]


  • The Government has cut ODA to 0.5% GDP to a total sum of £10b. The Foreign secretary must explain why urgent humanitarian relief funding for those in near famine conditions is such a tiny proportion of ODA spending.



[10] No Fuel was discharged in January and February and only 4 tankers in March which represented a 73% reduction compared with the 2020 average. https://www.vimye.org/doc/SAMonthly/Monthly_Situation_Analysis_March2021.png

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