What's In Blue

Posted Tue 10 Nov 2020

Yemen: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow morning (11 November), Security Council members will hold the monthly briefing, followed by consultations, on Yemen in videoconference (VTC) format. Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock, and Executive Director of the World Food Programme David Beasley are expected to brief. Omer Badokhon, founder and Executive Director of the civil society initiative Solutions for Sustainable Societies, will also brief.

The Yemeni government and the Houthi rebel group still have not agreed on the joint declaration for a nationwide ceasefire, economic and humanitarian measures and the resumption of peace talks. Discussing the protracted negotiations with Council members last month, Griffiths indicated the importance of reaching an agreement on the declaration in the coming weeks, but there does not seem to have been much progress. Griffiths may report on plans to seek a second meeting between the government and the Houthis on further prisoner exchanges before the end of the year, following talks in Geneva in September that resulted in the exchange of 1,056 prisoners last month.

The Special Envoy may provide an update on fighting on the ground. Recent weeks have reportedly seen a lull in the fighting in Marib governorate, where the Houthis have been conducting a multi-front offensive to take the government stronghold, rich in oil and gas reserves. In early October, Hodeidah governorate experienced some of its heaviest fighting since the December 2018 Stockholm Agreement established a ceasefire agreement between the Houthis and government-aligned forces. Since these clashes, which centred around al-Durayhimi city, the situation seems to have calmed. Griffiths may report that the Redeployment Coordination Committee, created to oversee the troop redeployments envisioned by the December 2018 deal, still has not met since the government suspended its participation in March after a Houthi sniper shot a government liaison officer who subsequently died. Other frontlines include ongoing fighting in Al Jawf, Al-Dhale and Taiz governorates.

Griffiths could also refer to the continuing talks between the government and the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) on forming a new government as part of the Saudi-brokered Riyadh Agreement, which earlier this month passed its one-year anniversary. Under the deal, half of the 24 ministers should be officials from southern Yemen, six of whom should reportedly be from the STC.

Lowcock is expected to update Council members on OCHA’s five priority areas to address Yemen’s humanitarian crisis: the protection of civilians, humanitarian access, funding for the aid operation, support for the economy, and the need for a political solution. Recent months have seen OCHA warning about the impact of deteriorating economic conditions, and a major funding gap for relief efforts amid renewed concerns about the potential for famine.

The UN humanitarian relief chief is also likely to report on talks with the Houthis to allow the deployment of a UN-led technical team to assess the decrepit FSO Safer oil tanker, moored off Hodeidah, amid concerns about the environmental, humanitarian and economic consequences of an oil spill. At the 15 October briefing, Lowcock said that the UN hoped to receive written approval for the deployment in “the coming days”. The Houthis, however, still have not provided final clearance.

This will be Beasley’s fourth Council briefing on Yemen since November 2018. He has also addressed the Council twice this year on conflict-induced food insecurity, including in the Yemen war. On 6 November, the WFP and the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) released a new report titled “FAO-WFP early warning analysis for acute food insecurity hotspots”, warning, in particular, about the risk of famine in Burkina Faso, northeastern Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen. The report, which Beasley may talk about, identifies the key drivers of food insecurity in Yemen as conflict, access constraints, and the economic crisis with the severe depreciation of the Yemeni rial. It states that if these factors deteriorate, there would be a risk of famine in areas such as Al Jawf, Marib, Amran and Al Mahwit governorates. Because of access constraints in the Houthi controlled-north, the integrated phase classification analysis in 2020 only covers Yemen’s southern governorates, but the hotspots report cites estimates that the number of people experiencing high food insecurity in Yemen may exceed 17 million.

Beasley is likely to welcome the fact that the WFP has begun to roll out its programme for biometric registration of the recipients of food assistance in the north, which has been put in place in other parts of Yemen. The UN has pushed for the long-pending programme amid reports of Houthi diversion of food assistance, which led to the US partially curtailing its funding of the UN response this year. Like Lowcock, Beasley may stress the need for funding. The WFP is seeking $438 million over the next six months.

Civil society representative Omer Badokhon won the UN’s top environmental prize, Young Champions of the Earth, in 2017 for a biogas project aimed at fighting climate change, indoor air pollution and the spread of cholera. He founded Solutions for Sustainable Societies, an initiative that the governor of Hadhramout governorate launched in 2019.  According to its website, the initiative works to create a sustainable lifestyle of rural communities in Yemen by spreading awareness of, and creating efficient solutions to promote, a sustainable and clean environment. In briefing Council members, Badokhon is expected to highlight the importance of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in a conflict setting and describe the work of young people to protect the environment and encourage sustainable lifestyles in Yemen.

Council members remain united in their support for the Special Envoy and his efforts to reach an agreement on the joint declaration for a ceasefire and the resumption of a political process. So far this year, Council members have issued multiple press statements and press elements, urging the parties to reach agreement on the declaration and calling on the Houthis to facilitate access for the UN technical team to the oil tanker. Their most recent 16 October press statement urged the Yemeni parties to endorse the UN-facilitated Joint Declaration proposals without delay. Among other points, it condemned military escalations in Marib and Hodeidah governorates, welcomed the recent prisoner exchange, and expressed deep concern about the risk of famine. The statement also urged donors to increase assistance to the UN-led response and for Yemen’s partners to consider all possible measures to strengthen the economy, including through regular foreign exchange injections into the Central Bank.