On Monday (15 April), the Security Council will hear briefings on Yemen from Special Envoy Martin Griffiths and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock, both by videoconference. Virginia Gamba, the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, and Muna Luqman, Chairperson of Food for Humanity and a member of the Women Solidarity Network, are also expected to brief. During consultations, General Michael Lollesgaard, the chair of the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) and head of the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA), will brief by videoconference.
Implementation of the Stockholm Agreement of December 2018 remains stalled. Griffiths and Lollesgaard are expected to focus on efforts to advance its implementation, including the deal on Hodeidah, which late last year halted the Yemeni government and Saudi Arabia-led coalition offensive against this critical port city held by the Houthis. A continuing stumbling block concerns the composition of the “local security forces” that, according to the agreement, are to take over security responsibilities from Houthi rebels and Yemeni government forces when these redeploy from Hodeidah city and port and the nearby smaller ports of Saleef and Ras Isa. The other two elements of the Stockholm Agreement—a prisoner exchange and Statement of Understanding on Taiz—have also stalled.
On 19 March, Griffiths announced “significant progress towards an agreement to implement phase one of the redeployments of the Hodeidah agreement” and that operational details would be presented to the parties of the RCC “for endorsement shortly”. Since then, however, there have been no signs of implementation, and Lollesgaard has been unable to hold a joint RCC meeting, instead having to meet separately with Yemeni government and Houthi representatives. Last month’s clashes around Hodeidah were described as the most intense since the governorate-wide ceasefire went into effect in December. Neither side has sought to seize new territory in Hodeidah, however.
When he last addressed Council members in consultations on 13 March, Griffiths said that if the impasse continues, he may organise a “political” meeting of the RCC, which would include Lollesgaard and RCC representatives, the Special Envoy and the political leadership of the two sides. He further spoke about the importance of resuming a second round of consultations. A follow-up round of talks to the December 2018 consultations between the Yemeni government and Houthis in Sweden had been planned for January, to focus on a comprehensive political solution to the war, but have been put on hold until the accord on Hodeidah is implemented. During the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee mission to the region last week, Griffiths informed committee members, who met with him in Amman, that he would like to hold a second round of consultations before Ramadan, which starts on 5 May. While Council members appear generally supportive of the need to resume political talks, they seem to recognise that some minimum level of progress would be a prerequisite, such as the prisoner exchange or the first phase of redeployments in Hodeidah city and the three ports.
Lowcock will update members on the humanitarian crisis. More than 24 million people—80 percent of the population—require aid and 20 million people are food insecure, with approximately 10 million at risk of famine. Lowcock is likely to note a rise in cholera cases that have tripled this year compared to the first quarter of 2018, and this before the upcoming rainy season when cholera spreads more easily. The value of the Yemeni rial had fallen towards the end of March to 590 rials to the US dollar, stressing people’s purchasing power, a major driver of the food crisis. Lowcock may also address access restrictions for the relief operation, especially bureaucratic obstacles in the Houthi-controlled north.
Lowcock may highlight the conflict’s escalation in areas outside Hodeidah. Fighting near Abs in Hajjah governorate has recently displaced 50,000 people, while the city of Taiz saw heavy fighting in late March between anti-Houthi groups. Lowock may further express concerns over risks that different frontline clashes pose to critical civilian infrastructure, and flag a general rise in civilian casualties.
When Lowcock last briefed the Council on 19 February, he said that the biggest challenge was increasingly becoming a lack of funding. A 27 February donor conference raised pledges of $2.6 billion out of $4.19 billion required for the 2019 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan. This included $1.5 billion from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which together committed $1 billion in new pledges at the conference, in addition to $500 million that they committed last November. By 24 March, according to an OCHA report, donors had however disbursed just 5% of this year’s required funds, including $21 million from Saudi Arabia and none from the UAE. An 8 April joint letter from the Yemeni government, Saudi Arabia and the UAE said that they would contribute $200 million to UN agencies for humanitarian relief during the month of Ramadan, focusing on Houthi-controlled areas. The letter stipulates, however, that this aid and the $1 billion pledged during the donor conference “can only be delivered if the Houthis cooperate with UN agencies and commit to end theft and blockage of access”. Lowcock has previously addressed reports about the diversion of aid, stating at the February briefing “that the vast majority of assistance is going where it is supposed to go” and that these challenges “can be managed”. The joint letter further attributes to the Houthis 3,047 violations of the ceasefire agreement and says that the Houthis have been strengthening their defenses in Hodeidah.
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