Update on Yemen: International Institutions, Non-State Actors, and Humanitarian Crisis

Update on Yemen: International Institutions, Non-State Actors, and Humanitarian Crisis

22 million Yemenis are dependent on aid; a stable government and institutions are absent; extremists groups occupy pockets of territory. As fighting between the Iranian-backed Houthis and the Gulfi-backed Hadi government continues across Yemen, the world’s attention is fixed on the key port city of Hodeidah.  

On July 2nd, the United Nations (UN) Envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, arrived in Sanaa to continue negotiations about Hodeidah, a key-Houthi-held port city along the Red Sea. This marks the second week of attempted talks this year between representatives of the Houthis and Hadi government. On Sunday, July 1st, United Arab Emirates Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash posted this on Twitter: “We welcome continuing efforts by UN Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths, to achieve an unconditional Houthi withdrawal from Hodeida city and port. We have paused our campaign to allow enough time for this option to be fully explored. We hope he will succeed.” The Houthi government has offered UN control of the Hodeidah port as one aspect of a ceasefire agreement. However, both sides have not agreed to the other’s request. The UN-led talks today are the second attempt to bring about a degree of negotiated peace between the sides; the first talks led by Griffiths unsuccessfully ended in 2016.

Outside of the two conflicting parties—the Houthis and the Hadi government —al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State control territory within Yemen. Formed in 2009, AQAP has engaged in a culturally specific narrative and community development to encourage local power sharing in Yemen. However, the Islamic State did not partake in similar tactics and thus has had a difficult time gaining traction across the country. Ingrained in and cooperating with local communities, these tactics have arguably strengthened AQAP’s control of territory and remain an existential threat. As the civil war broke out in Yemen, AQAP used the conflict to publically and forcefully fight against the Iranian-backed Houthis. Throughout the month of June, it was reported that AQAP increased its rate of operations against Emirati-backed forces. Furthermore, in its campaign against terrorism, the United States Central Command, under the direction of President Trump, has conducted 26 airstrikes in 2018 against AQAP.

In addition to the aforementioned complexities, the humanitarian crisis in Yemen is worsening. By the numbers, 22 million are in need of aid; 15.7 million lack access to clean, safe drinking water; 8 million are “one step away from famine,” according to the UN; 3 million are internally displaced; 2.5 million children are out of school; 1 million cholera cases; over 10,000 have been killed. The fighting in and around Hodeidah has further exacerbated the humanitarian crisis. In a country with a total population of 27 million people, these numbers are devastating. Earlier in August, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates gave the Yemen Humanitarian Fund, run by UN Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs, $930 million, accounting for a third of the budget needed to carry out aid projects.

There is yet to be a decisive outcome in the fight for Hodeidah, or the entire war nonetheless; the humanitarian crisis is worsening; non-state actors are deeply rooted in society. The path to peace will neither be simple nor clear, but the upcoming days and weeks will be very telling of the trajectory of the war.


Morgan Bedford is a Summer Associate at PDC.