Extend Yemeni cease-fire indefinitely, aid groups urge

A boy carries a bag of sugar to his family during a food distribution by Yemeni volunteers in Taiz, Yemen. (AP Photo/Abdulnasser Alseddik)

Aid agencies are in a rush against time to deliver assistance to people in Yemen. The five-day window provided by a humanitarian cease-fire that began on Tuesday allows for the opportunity to reach more people without fear of being caught in the cross-fire. But it is only a momentary break in what is otherwise a worsening crisis that garners little international attention.

“Life in Yemen is intolerable at the moment: if the violence doesn’t get you, you still face a struggle to survive,” said Grace Ommer, Oxfam’s Yemen country director, in a release. “You don’t know when you will have your next meal, water and medicines are in short supply and you can’t sleep due to the constant bombing. Over 300,000 people have fled their homes – including many of our staff who are assisting their fellow displaced Yemenis.”

Oxfam warned that the humanitarian pause is not nearly long enough to address the problems in the country. Some 12 million Yemenis face food shortages. Intensified fighting last week killed dozens of people and displaced thousands, says the U.N. Aid groups say about 70,000 people fled from the just the north. A break for five days is not enough time to assist those in need.

Credit: BBC

Credit: BBC

A total of 300,000 people have been displaced from their homes since Houthi rebels allied with Iran took control of the Yemeni capital Sanaa this past September. Both the Prime Minister and the President were forced to resign their offices by the rebels. President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Had eventually escaped to the northern town of Aden where he re-established himself as president of the country. Saudi Arabia, with the backing of the U.S. and others, launched airstrikes against the rebels starting in March to prevent them from advancing to Aden.

Continued fighting has made it unsafe for Yemenis and aid groups trying to provide support. To make matters worse, fuel lines are cut off making travel in Yemen more difficult.

“The lack of fuel means that agencies such as Oxfam have only been able to operate a third of our vehicles. What the country urgently needs is a permanent cease-fire, one that lets food, fuel, and medical supplies in sufficient quantities to meet the growing needs of the people,” said Ommer.

Both sides accepting the cease-fire proposed by Saudi Arabia is a good sign. But there are already allegations that Houthi fighters violated the agreement at least a dozen times in the first day. The ongoing fighting is making matters worse for a country where millions of people were vulnerable when there was peace.

Five days of little or no fighting is just not enough time.

“We are concerned that the ongoing intensive bombing of Sa’ada Governorate will do little to encourage all parties to conflict to abide by the preconditions of the cease-fire. Furthermore, even if a five-day cease-fire goes ahead, the overwhelming scale of humanitarian needs on the ground means that it will make little difference to the lives of millions of increasingly desperate people,” said Hanibal Abiy Worku, Country Director of Norwegian Refugee Council Yemen, in a statement.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.