More than two months after Yemen’s warring parties met in Sweden to agree to a series of measures to begin paving the way for a peace settlement, Yemenis are more than ever reliant on the largest aid effort in the world. According to the 2019 Humanitarian Needs Overview, 24.1 million Yemenis – 80 percent of the population – require one or more forms of humanitarian assistance, marking a significant deterioration from 2018. In order to meet these needs, the United Nations requested an unprecedented $4.2 billion from donors at the High-Level Pledging Event for the Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen, held in Geneva on February 26. The UN fell short of its goal, only securing $2.62 billion in pledges (but still about 30 percent more than was offered last year). Meanwhile, the value of the Yemeni riyal continued to weaken in February to around YER 600 per $1, after rebounding from a record low of around YER 820 in October 2018 to YER 400 in November.
On the political front, the prisoner exchange committee met twice in Amman, Jordan following the Sweden Consultations. Despite short spurts of progress – including a trade in late January of one Saudi POW for seven Yemenis held in Saudi Arabia – major hurdles remain. Following the second meeting in February, both parties indicated a willingness to swap a number of bodies of fighters killed in hostilities. However, a large-scale prisoner exchange does not appear imminent. Both Houthi and government negotiators continue to accuse one another of admitting to know the whereabouts of only a fraction of the detainees they want their opponent to release.
In Hodeidah, initial optimism about the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC)’s ability to work cooperatively towards a goal of demilitarizing the port waned throughout January as deadlines for troops to pull back passed and joint meetings between the warring parties turned into individual consultations. Finally, on February 17, the UN announced the RCC – which resumed face-to-face meetings earlier in the month – had reached an agreement on the first phase of a redeployment plan. Phase one would see the Houthis pull back from Hodeidah Port and the ports of Saleef and Ras Isa to its north; government and coalition-aligned forces would decamp from their position on the eastern edges of the city. By the end of February, however, this momentum had not yet yielded action on the ground.
To read about all the major economic, humanitarian, political, and military developments that took place in Yemen so far this year, access the full January & February 2019 issue of the Yemen Trend by clicking on the PDF icon below.