A ceasefire between government forces and rebels in Yemen has been interrupted by sporadic clashes barely a day after it was called to allow humanitarian aid to reach stranded civilians. Fighting between Yemeni government forces and the rebel Houthi group in the north of the country has caused a growing humanitarian situation as civilians become increasingly caught up in military activities. There has been no water or electricity in Saada City since mid August and food reserves are running low. According to the UN, over 100,000 people have become refugees in the Saada region which borders Saudi Arabia (pic of Yemeni capital Saana by Ahron de Leeuw).
The Saudis are particularly worried the conflict between the mainly Sunni Yemenis and the Shia Houthis will spill across the border and inflame that country’s own Shia minority. Houthis in the guise of a shadowy group called “The Believing Youth” have been fighting since 2004 are seeking independence from a corrupt government which is too reliant on Saudi Arabia. Yemen claims they are supported by Iran and says its leader Husayn al-Huthi sought refuge in Iran in 2004 during the initial stages of the conflict. Though the two sides signed a peace deal in Qatar in 2007, there have been repeated violations. Unverifiable estimates of casualties vary widely but likely run into a thousand or more dead.
While the government gained control of Saada City, the rebels continued to operate with impunity from the nearby rugged mountains. In the latest action, the government had waged a "Scorched Earth" operation for three weeks. The campaign targeted mountain rebel hide outs and they also subjected major cities such as Dhayan to repeated and intense bombing. With food, water and medicine at critical levels, the government agreed to observe a ceasefire on Friday in response to requests from aid agencies. But fighting broke out again just hours later.
The humanitarian community organised a Flash Appeal which was due to be launched last Wednesday. The UN refugee agency UNHCR planned to address humanitarian needs of approximately 150,000 refugees and tens of thousands of others indirectly affected by the conflict. The plan involves moving camps out of the direct line of fire, ensuring all refugees are unarmed when they arrive at camps, and providing shelter, food and non-food items to displaced people. But the precarious ceasefire has left UNHCR unable to mobilise and its top priority now is to open humanitarian corridors to allow civilians to leave the conflict zone and humanitarian workers to deliver aid.
The ongoing Sadaa war is not the nation’s only challenge. Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the Arab world. Disappearing oil reserves, refugees flooding in from nearby Somalia and a weak government give it the potential to be a failed state. Its most pressing challenges are high unemployment, high population growth, and an uneasy security environment with four troublesome regions (including Sadaa). But the country has plenty of opportunities for growth: Yemen has a complex culture befitting its 3,000 year history and was known as "Felix (Happy) Arabia" to the Romans for the fertility of its lands. It is mineral-rich, there is great potential for tourism development and its strategically placed ports connect the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and the Indian Ocean.
Yemen’s sub-governor for foreign banking operations, Ibrahim al-Nahari told Reuters that gas exports is their big hope. Liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipments from the $5 billion Yemen LNG project should come online later this month which will make up for oil revenues which are declining due to lower prices and declining production. "Hopefully the price of oil will increase so that we don't have to spend more or sacrifice more reserves," he said, adding that current reserves covered 8 or 9 months of imports. "Whether we like it or not, we depend too much on oil." A genuine willingness to talk peace with Huthis would help too, whether they like it or not.