Yemen, ‘the worst humanitarian crisis in the world’, is experiencing a fragile semi-peace, where the UN-brokered truce that officially came to an end last October has held in practice, with some big exceptions.
There are hopes of progress towards a true peace deal, especially because Saudi Arabia and Iran, which back different sides in Yemen, have agreed to resume diplomatic relations and seem to be agreeing a non-aggression pact with each other.
Another positive sign was a UN-brokered agreement by all sides in Yemen (announced on 20 March) to release 887 conflict-related detainees, and to meet again in May to talk next steps.
On the other hand, on 22 March, Oxfam warned that Yemen is on the brink of economic collapse. More than two million children are acutely malnourished and millions more Yemenis are at risk of famine.
A Save the Children report released on 23 March, Watching Our Every Step, found that more Yemeni children than ever are being killed or injured by landmines or other explosive devices. One child was killed or injured on average every two days last year, the highest rate in five years.
Armed by Britain with £23bn-worth of weapons, Saudi Arabia is militarily involved in Yemen on the side of the internationally-recognised government of Yemen.
Iran, on the other hand, is seen as the main sponsor of the opposition, Ansar Allah, known as ‘the Houthis’.
The closer ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia have actually sparked more fighting in some frontline areas such as oil-rich Marib, where the Houthis and the government want to secure their positions before any peace deal freezes the boundaries between their territories.
Former US diplomat Nabeel A Khoury points out that if Iran could guarantee that Houthi rockets no longer attack Saudi targets, that would be enough to seal a Saudi-Houthi mutual non-aggression agreement: ‘Such an agreement could serve as a cornerstone for a broader peace in Yemen.’
- In other news, the UN has raised enough money to actually buy a giant tanker which will take 1.1mn barrels of oil off the derelict FSO Safer, which is rusting just off Yemen’s main port, Hodeidah, threatening ecological and humanitarian disaster. The tanker is scheduled to arrive in May – but the UN still needs to raise another $36mn to complete the emergency phase of this operation.