The conflict in Yemen is different from the other crises created by the notorious “Arab Spring.” If Syria, Libya and Tunisia were stable states before the beginning of “colour revolutions,” Yemen since its unification in 1990 went through a series of conflicts and internal political crises which often turned into armed clashes. At the same time, Yemen remained one of the poorest Arab states, where all these conflict situations happened in the most negative way.
The second difference is that external interference into the Yemeni conflict was not always negative, as it happened, for instance, in Libya. It is worth recalling the 2011 Initiative of the Gulf Cooperation Council led by Saudi Arabia, which at that stage allowed to solve a very acute domestic political crisis. These efforts were supported by the United Nations, the United States, the EU, China and Russia. The result of these efforts was the signing on November 23, 2011 of a plan for the peaceful transfer of power. With external support, it was possible to hold presidential elections and convene a conference on national dialogue.
However, after the Houthis stepped onto the forefront of Yemeni politics and seized the country’s capital in September 2014, and Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi as the legitimate president requested military aid from Saudi Arabia and its allies in March 2015 to restore the authority of the legitimate government, the conflict became uncontrollable.
Almost three years of the war caused catastrophic deterioration of the humanitarian situation. Around 75% of the people of Yemen need humanitarian help. Yemen is on the verge of the most terrible famine in the world. Nearly 7.3 million people, including almost 2.5 million children, are malnourished.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 274 hospitals were destroyed or damaged as a result of the conflict in Yemen. The country has only 45% of all medical facilities.
Since the escalation of the conflict in March 2015, the Yemeni health authorities reported that 7,600 people were killed and more than 40.000 were injured. Other sources point to much greater casualties. Many Yemenis became victims of the continuing airstrikes of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition.
Children in Yemen die of hunger and cholera. Cholera rages in 21 of the 22 Yemeni provinces. The total number of people with suspected cholera exceeded one million. A total of 40% of all sick with a dangerous disease are children. Since April 2017, 2,227 people have died from this disease. Children do not attend school. Boys are forced to work, and girls are given in marriage for the sake of ransom. Moreover, a diphtheria outbreak has recently occurred in Yemen, which infected more than 300 people, and 35 of them died.
Delivery of 180 thousand litters of fuel to Yemen in January 2018 somewhat softened the desperate situation. The UN Secretary-General welcomed in his statement the decision of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to allocate $1 billion and raise another 500 million dollars for the humanitarian needs of Yemen. Meanwhile, the UN and partners have requested about $3 billion to help the Yemenis this year.
One of the important features of this conflict is that Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which form the backbone of the anti-Houthi coalition, on the one hand, severely bomb the Houthis and their supporters, organizing land-based military operations against them, and on the other hand, provide large-scale humanitarian assistance to the population that amounted to a total of about $8 billion. A total of $3 billion was sent to the Central Bank of Yemen, $1.5 billion was allocated this year for the needs of the United Nations, $70 million was spent on the rehabilitation of port infrastructures. The blockade of key ports, through which humanitarian aid was sent to Yemen, was recently revoked, two new ground checkpoints have been opened, and humanitarian assistance supplies began through an air bridge to Marib.
However, despite the whole range of measures, including military, political and humanitarian ones, despite the numerous trips and initiatives of the UN special envoy Ismail Ould Sheikh Ahmed, who were often supported by the coalition, there is no end to the conflict, and the humanitarian assistance in the conditions of continued hostilities has only a temporary and limited effect.
According to the Russian side, which was very active on both the political and humanitarian tracks, and maintained contacts with all parties, the Yemeni conflict has no military solution. Its continuation only leads to further destruction of the country and the new and extremely severe sufferings of the civilian population.
No matter how hard it is, it is necessary to finish the military phase of the conflict as soon as possible, both externally and internally. It seems that the new, highly pragmatic leadership of Saudi Arabia is interested in this. Crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman faces large-scale tasks to modernize Saudi Arabia, diversify the economy, and the Yemen conflict diverts enormous financial resources. But even within Yemen, the main political forces cannot complete the conflict by military means, as the Russian side constantly repeats. It can be achieved only at the negotiating table, through mutual consideration of interests and concerns.
The assassination of former president and political “heavyweight” Ali Abdullah Saleh, who announced his desire to end the war, seemed to complicate the search for a peaceful settlement. Instead of listening to the voice of reason, the opponents of the political process, who prefer a military solution, physically eliminated a person who could initiate the peace process.
Now it will be even more difficult to find persons in the camp of Houthi who would like to start negotiations. Moreover, there is a fragmentation of political forces both in the north of the country and in the south.
In these conditions, it seems that the international community has to support the new special envoy of the UN Secretary-General. To start successfully, he probably needs to hear constructive proposals from the coalition, which would arm him politically to begin negotiations with local political forces.
Moreover, it seems that Russia and Western countries, in spite of numerous differences on other issues, may develop a common understanding regarding the need to end the war in Yemen on conditions acceptable to all parties. There has already been experience of such constructive cooperation on Yemen.