A UN brokered two-month renewable truce between the warring parties in Yemen is holding, Special Envoy Hans Grundberg told the Security Council on Thursday, providing “light at the end of the tunnel”, and the possibility of a lasting peace.
The first nationwide truce in six years coincided with the start of the holy month of Ramadan and includes provisions to improve the freedom of movement of civilians and goods, across the war-torn Arab nation.
‘Turning point toward peace’
The UN envoy saw the move as “a moment” of respite and possibility, for pursuing peace.
He noted that “continued commitment” is required from the Saudi-led coalition which backs the internationally recognized Government, Houthi opposition forces, the region as a whole, and the international community, to ensure that it holds and becomes “a turning point toward peace.”
Since the start of the truce on 4 April, he pointed to “encouraging signs”, such as a significant reduction in violence and civilian casualties; no confirmed airstrikes; more fuel flowing through the Hudaydah region’s ports; and preparations for commercial flights from Sana’a airport – controlled by the Houthis – for the first time since 2016.
However, reports of military operations around Marib must be addressed through the truce mechanisms – or risk setting the stage for a new escalation.
“I want to remind the parties that the foundational principle of the truce is that the respite it offers should be used to make progress toward ending the war, not to escalate it,” said Mr. Grundberg.
“The parties have publicly committed to de-escalation, and this is what the Yemeni people and the international community expect of them”.
Benefits of agreement
Easing restrictions on the movement of goods and civilians is a priority for the truce.
“Flights to and from Sana’a airport need to resume and we are working with partners to make this happen as quickly as possible,” said the UN envoy.
Another priority is for an agreement to open roads in heavily-contested Taiz.
“It is imperative that serious work is done in Taiz to open roads, allowing civilians on either side of the frontlines, both in the city and the surrounding areas, to go to work and school, and facilitate trade”.
He flagged that the truce – a result of the parties’ commitments and “longstanding and tireless efforts” of Yemeni civic actors, youth groups, and women peace activists to stop the war – “it is still fragile and temporary,”
“We need to work collectively and intensively…to ensure it does not unravel,” spelled out the UN official, pledging to continue engaging the parties to implement, strengthen and extend it.
He explained that during his recent visit to Muscat and Sana’a, the Houthi-held capital, he received “reaffirmed commitment to all aspects of implementing the truce” while discussing next steps on strengthening and extending it.
‘Pivot’ towards peace
The fragile agreement offers a “rare opportunity to pivot toward a peaceful future,” Mr. Grundberg said, describing the coming weeks as “a test of the parties’ commitments to uphold their obligations,” and build trust and confidence
Yemen will need the international community’s support as much as ever to find an inclusive, peaceful and sustainable end to the conflict.
“I will need your redoubled efforts and support during this critical period,” he stated.
Hope for tomorrow
UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths said that recent progress is helping to “pave the way” for a brighter future.
Fewer civilian casualties, more fuel ships arriving in Hudaydah and the truce are all positive steps, he said.
Moreover, he cited a recently-announced $3 billion economic support package that includes fuel and development assistance as well as a new $2 billion deposit in Yemen’s Central Bank – jointly provided by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – to help stabilize the currency.
“Already, the rial has recovered 25 per cent of its value since this announcement,” explained the senior UN official.
This means that food and other essential goods – nearly all of which must be imported – should soon become more affordable.
Efforts are also progressing to resolve the threat posed by the FSO Safer, which has been moored off Yemen’s coast in the Red Sea since 2015.
Mr. Griffiths, who is also humanitarian affairs chief, elaborated that if some $80 million can be raised, a new UN proposal can be put into effect in May to offload oil from the precarious tanker onto a temporary vessel before replacing the Safer.
Millions struggle to stay alive
Meanwhile, humanitarian assistance is needed today to keep millions alive.
The UN humanitarian chief said that aid agencies are seeking $4.3 billion to assist 17.3 million people across the country this year.
He noted that while a 16 March event had raised $1.3 billion in pledges – well below what was asked for – more is urgently needed.
“Funding remains the biggest challenge,” Mr. Griffiths underscored, highlighting that food, water, healthcare and support for displaced people will keep scaling down and, eventually, stop if they do not get the funds they need.
“Allowing the aid operation to collapse, would run directly counter to the positive momentum we are seeing in the wider efforts to resolve Yemen’s crisis”.
Despite aid constraints, including access challenges and attempted interference, there have also been some improvements, said the Relief Coordinator.
He drew attention to a new agreement with local security forces on the west coast facilitating humanitarian movements through the Dhubab checkpoint, describing it as “a long-standing objective” and a 2022 humanitarian needs analysis based on new data collected from all 333 districts across the country.
“We also appreciate the close collaboration we have with donors and other stakeholders on access issues, which remains a top priority,” added Mr. Griffiths.
The humanitarian chief reminded however, that five months after the Houthi authorities detained two UN staff in Sana’a, they remain in custody.
And five other staff members abducted in February by armed men in Abyan have been forcibly held for more than 60 days.
“These kinds of incidents are completely unacceptable, and the staff must be released,” he stressed.