Yemen’s uncertain future will once again hang in the balance on Oct. 2 as the warring sides in the country’s brutal civil war, grinding into its eighth year, will decide whether to renew the ceasefire that has remained in place since April.
The ceasefire, though wildly imperfect and fragile, has nonetheless helped lower the intensity of fighting which, since 2014, has killed over 400,000 people, demolished the country’s schools, hospitals, sanitation systems, and roads, and plunged more than 20 million of Yemen’s 30 million inhabitants into desperate living situations, often depending on relief provided by humanitarian responders.
The World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that by December, about 19 million Yemenis will lack reliable access to adequate food and 161,000 people will face catastrophic, famine-like conditions. The plight of the Yemeni people remains the world’s largest humanitarian crisis occurring in a single country.
While facilitating negotiations earlier this week, Hans Grundberg, the United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen, warned: “We are at a crossroads where the risk of a return to war is real and I am urging the parties to choose an alternative that prioritizes the needs of the Yemeni people.”
The United Nations negotiated an initial ceasefire between the Houthis and the former Saudi-backed government regime, which went into effect on April 2. Having been extended twice during this past summer, on June 2 and again on Aug. 2, the uneasy truce bought time for minor compromises that will hopefully be a first step on the lengthy, fraught road to a more durable and just peace.
These compromises were made largely over humanitarian concerns and the desire to restore the most basic levels of governance and access to parts of the country. For instance, the truce includes potential provisions for civil servants to resume drawing their salaries and calls for roadblocks to be lifted in certains areas of the country.
Representatives of both sides of the conflict have alleged instances in which the ceasefire was broken. However, it has brought a significant reprieve, even if only temporarily, to what remains a horrific situation.
Following the first two months of the ceasefire, 60% fewer civilians were killed due to fighting and the number of people displaced from their homes nearly halved, compared to two months prior. The infamously blockaded Hudaydah ports received more arriving ships between April and June than they did in all of 2021, a key step to getting Yemen’s devastating food and fuel crisis under control.
Yemen, a country dependent on imports for nearly 90% of its food, is one of the many countries to be intensely impacted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. WFP currently operates general food and nutrition assistance programs, a limited number of school meal programs, and plans to restart its resilience and livelihood strengthening initiatives.
However, $1.25 billion is still needed to keep programs funded through February 2023, while the deepening global food crisis stretches resources thinner and thinner — making the need for action all the more urgent.
In his earlier statement, Grundberg called for the “continued cooperation of the parties to meet their commitments and implement all elements of the truce and to negotiate in good faith to reach an expanded truce agreement, and to put Yemen on a path to sustainable peace.”
The importance of extending the ceasefire is that it makes space for the slight but necessary step to save lives today and slowly rebuild the livelihoods of Yemenis tomorrow. Yemen’s hope for a better future is too valuable to throw away.