If one place has borne the brunt of international lawlessness over the past year it is Yemen. The humanitarian crisis there—the world’s worst—could deteriorate further in 2019 if the key players do not seize the opportunity created over the past weeks by U.N. Special Envoy Martin Griffiths in achieving a partial cease-fire and encouraging a series of confidence-building steps.
After more than four years of war and a Saudi-led siege, almost 16 million Yemenis face “severe acute food insecurity,” according to the U.N. That means one in two Yemenis doesn’t have enough to eat.
Fighting started in late 2014, after Houthi rebels expelled the internationally recognized government from the capital. It escalated the following March, when Saudi Arabia, together with the United Arab Emirates, began bombing and blockading Yemen, aiming to reverse the Houthis’ gains and reinstall the dislodged government. Western powers largely endorsed the Saudi-led campaign.
In late 2018, Yemeni militias backed by the United Arab Emirates surrounded Hodeidah, a Houthi-controlled port, through which aid for millions of starving Yemenis passes. The coalition appeared determined to move in, convinced that taking the port would crush the rebellion and make the Houthis more pliant. But the consequences of such an offensive would be almost unimaginable. The top U.N. relief official, Mark Lowcock, has warned it could provoke a “great big famine.” That, and the fallout from Khashoggi’s murder, prompted Western powers to begin restraining the Gulf coalition. On Nov. 9, the United States announced it would no longer refuel coalition jets conducting air raids in Yemen. A month later, Griffiths, with Washington’s help, reached the “Stockholm agreement” between the Houthis and the Yemeni government, including a fragile cease-fire around Hodeidah.
There are other glimmers of light. voted to consider legislation barring all U.S. involvement in the war.">U.S. pressure to end the conflict could intensify in 2019. The Senate has already voted to consider legislation barring all U.S. involvement in the war.
Once the Democrats assume control of the House of Representatives in January 2019, they could move more aggressively in this direction.
That and more will be needed to end the Yemen war or at least avoid it taking another turn for the worse. All parties—the Houthis and their Yemeni adversaries, but also the Saudis and Emiratis—seem to believe that time is on their side. Only pressure from Europe, Oman, and Iran on the Houthis; from the United States on Saudi Arabia and the UAE; from those two Gulf countries on the Yemeni government; and from Congress on the U.S. administration stands a chance of making a difference.