AMIDST much doom and gloom across the world, a faint flicker of hope has appeared for the impoverished and war-weary people of Yemen as a two-week unilateral ceasefire declared by the Saudi-led coalition took effect on Thursday. The coalition had been pummelling Yemen since March 2015 in an effort to drive out the Houthi ‘Ansar Allah’ movement, believed to be allied with Iran, and that controls the capital Sana’a. Far from dislodging the Houthis, the Saudi-led war, supported by some of Riyadh’s Gulf allies as well as the US and many in Europe, has been an unmitigated disaster for the people of Yemen, unleashing death, destruction and hunger upon some of the world’s poorest, most vulnerable people. The truce comes after the UN appealed for a cessation of hostilities, while the Saudis say they made the move to prevent a coronavirus outbreak in Yemen. As opposed to previous reckless decisions, this appears to be a mature move from Riyadh, and all parties in Yemen, specifically the Houthis, should reciprocate.
However, a Houthi spokesman has been quoted as saying that they will continue to fight until the blockade of Yemen — enforced by the coalition — has been lifted. Considering the miseries confronting the Yemeni people, and the threat Covid-19 poses to the country, the Houthis should reconsider their rigid stance. Continuing to target Saudi cities and installations will surely draw a response from Riyadh, and the grim cycle of death in Yemen will only be prolonged. For the sake of the Yemeni people, the ceasefire must be respected by all. Moreover, the fact is that a coronavirus outbreak would have an even more devastating impact on Yemen, shattered as it has been after years of conflict.
Many in the international community have been unmoved by the plight of Yemenis, despite harrowing images coming out of the country of malnourished children and tiny coffins. However, now with Covid-19 — a foe that does not discriminate on national, religious or political grounds — ravaging the planet, the realisation seems to have dawned on those involved in the Yemeni conflict that something needs to be done. Saudi Arabia is grappling with its own coronavirus outbreak, with over 3,000 reported cases, and this may have played a role in the declaration of the ceasefire. And while no cases have been reported in Yemen, one shudders to think what the situation would be in the country should a Covid-19 outbreak be confirmed, as the health system barely exists, and infrastructure is in a shambles. However, the Houthis have a point in their demand for the blockade to be lifted. Considering the situation, aid must reach the Yemeni people unhindered, and were the blockade to be lifted, the ceasefire may increase the chances of success. If this experiment in peacemaking succeeds, more formal peace talks would also be given an impetus.
Published in Dawn, April 10th, 2020