AUSTIN, Texas — Since 2014, civil war has consumed Yemen. This war has killed thousands of civilians and displaced millions more, creating what the U.N. deems the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis.” However, a glimmer of hope came on April 2, 2022, when U.N. negotiators announced a historic ceasefire in Yemen. This temporary truce aims to relieve the country’s rampant humanitarian suffering and may be the first step in resolving the devastating civil war.
The civil war began in late 2014 when Houthi insurgents seized the capital city of Sana’a in an attempt to overthrow President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. Since then, Yemen’s civil war has become a proxy battle for the regional powers of Iran and Saudi Arabia, which have provided military support to the Houthis and Hadi government respectively.
The intervention of these outside powers has escalated the conflict and made it much deadlier; in the first five years of the war, Saudi Arabia led more than 20,000 airstrikes that killed approximately 18,400 Yemeni civilians, according to the Yemen Data Project.
Effects of the War
Yemen, however, was struggling to begin with. Even before the onset of the war, the nation faced extremely high levels of poverty. In 2014, 48.6% of the population lived below the national poverty line, which made Yemen one of the most impoverished countries in the Middle East. Now, nearly eight years into the conflict, Yemen’s poverty rate has risen to roughly 75%.
In addition to this mass poverty, the war also bears a heavy humanitarian toll. As of 2021, 16.2 million Yemenis faced high acute food insecurity as widespread institutional collapse has triggered major disruptions in commercial food imports.
This rampant hunger combined with failing sanitation systems makes the population especially susceptible to disease, which routinely goes untreated since around half of the country’s health care facilities are non-functional.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) estimated that the war had led to roughly 377,000 deaths by the close of 2021. Around 60% of these deaths came as indirect consequences of the conflict, such as the scarcity of food and the inaccessibility of health care. Accounting for this indirect suffering, the U.N. now estimates that two out of three Yemenis are in need of humanitarian assistance.
Despite these grim conditions, recent developments in the war give some cause for optimism. On April 2, 2022, a temporary ceasefire took effect that brought to a halt all offensive military operations while permitting the entry of fuel ships into rebel-controlled ports and allowing limited commercial flights from the capital city of Sana’a to resume.
The U.N. first proposed these terms and played a central role in mediating the negotiations. When announcing the truce, the U.N. Special Envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, stated that the truce seeks to “give Yemenis a necessary break from violence, relief from the humanitarian suffering and, most importantly, hope that an end to this conflict is possible.”
The U.S. also welcomed the truce’s announcement, with President Joe Biden calling it a “long-awaited reprieve for the Yemeni people.”
These terms will only last for two months and will expire in early June of 2022. However, interim negotiations hope to use the temporary ceasefire in Yemen to discuss possible solutions for permanent peace.
Moreover, coinciding with this truce, President Hadi announced on April 7, 2022, that he is stepping down and transferring his powers to a new presidential council. In this announcement, he added that the council will negotiate with Houthi rebels “for a permanent cease-fire.” Hadi had become a deeply unpopular figure, especially in the eyes of the Houthis, for his inability to resolve the destructive conflict, and his departure is another hopeful sign for political reconciliation.
What the Truce Means for Poverty
The ceasefire in Yemen has important implications on nationwide poverty. In the short term, it grants some humanitarian relief. With the limited resumption of commercial flights, wounded civilians can receive expert medical treatment abroad and displaced families have the opportunity to reunite. Additionally, the entry of fuel tankers will lower domestic fuel prices, which have skyrocketed and led to a worrying shortage.
In the long term, this agreement inspires hope for prolonged peace. This is the first serious truce in six years of warfare, so it may signal an important shift in the tides of the conflict. If negotiations can bring the war toward a resolution, Yemen may begin the process of recovery and millions of Yemenis may finally escape the cycle of poverty that constant conflict has induced.
Of course, the ceasefire in Yemen is just a first step. The current accord is fragile and the warring parties still have deep divides. However, this truce does show that peace is possible. If this budding diplomacy can eventually yield peace, millions of Yemenis would be free of the crushing conflict that has trapped their country in suffocating and perpetual poverty for almost eight years.
– Jack Leist