HODEIDA, YEMEN — For many around the world, there are reasons to be optimistic heading into 2020, but the reality on the ground is dashing Yemeni hopes that the new year will bring about an end to Saudi Arabia’s nearly five-year-long war on their country as Western support for oil-rich kingdom continues, particularly from the United States.
“No one is coming,” said 55 year-old Yasser, standing at the water’s edge on Hodeida’s port on the first morning of 2020, scanning the horizon for long-awaited ships. Yasser used to work at the port when he was young, “No one cares about us, nothing gives us a reason to be optimistic heading into 2020.”
Yasser, a father of eight, is one of nearly 3,400 workers in the port of Hodeida who have lost their livelihoods due to a Saudi-imposed blockade on the port that began in August 2015, when Saudi-coalition airstrikes destroyed the port’s cranes and warehouses, causing a humanitarian crisis for thousands of families in the province who head into 2020 with frustration and misery.
“We live under trying and undignified circumstances. We don’t have a home or a source of income. Conditions are unsettling and unbearable,” a fisherman who has been prevented from fishing by the presence of Saudi naval forces stationed in Yemen said. Conditions in Yemen are indeed becoming worse by the day, eroding whatever resilience people in major cities still have. Electricity and fuel shortages, food insecurity, skyrocketing unemployment rates and extreme water pollution have taken their toll.
This is Hodeida in 2020. Water, sanitation, and the health sector have all suffered substantially in the city from damage to infrastructure from thousands of airstrikes and from the ongoing blockade. As a result, epidemics including cholera still plague the city in what is the worst outbreak of the disease in recorded history.
The coastal city is the subject of a UN-brokered international agreement signed in December of 2018 that was supposed to begin a process of bringing peace to Hodeida, but the agreement has been largely ignored by the Saudi-led coalition, which has pushed ahead with a brutal military campaign against the city’s residents. Hodeida, in many ways, is a bellwether for how the rest of Yemen’s will fare during the coming year.
Over a year after the UN-sponsored agreement was signed, Hodeida still remains the country’s most dangerous area. Three weeks ago, violence struck a new district in southern Hodeida where the city of Heys was subjected to airstrikes, mortar fire and shelling by the Saud funded Giants Brigade militia, killing and injuring dozens of civilians and creating a new wave of internally displaced people.
Despite warnings that the ongoing war against the city would plunge Yemen into a deeper humanitarian crisis, as around 70-80 percent of Yemen’s goods arrive through Hodeida’s port, the Saudi-led coalition boosted their military presence in southern Hodeida in early December, according to Houthi military officials. The fresh deployment likely indicates that fighting in the province will continue well into 2020.
Hodeida is already on the brink of a major health catastrophe amid the seizure of vessels carrying diesel fuel and petroleum by the Saudi-led alliance’s naval forces. Those vessels, despite possessing the required paperwork, are left unable to reach Hodeida port to offload their consignments, leaving countless Yemenis without much-need fuel to power the generators that run hospitals and water treatment facilities.
The Saudi blockade on what was already one of the poorest countries on earth has entailed tight control over all aspects of life in Yemen since 2015, severely restricting the movement of aid, as well as people. This lack of freedom of movement impacts Yemen’s right to enjoy the basic standards of human rights, including the right to seek medical treatment abroad.
Moreover, epidemics such as diphtheria, cholera, dengue fever and malaria, have swept Yemen in an unprecedented manner, making it difficult to confront them all at once. It is unlikely that Yemeni authorities will be able to handle the outbreaks in 2020, as years past have seen international organizations unable to provide the necessary medicine and medical supplies to combat them.
“As it [the war] enters its fifth year, Yemen now has the fastest growing outbreak of cholera ever recorded. Swine flu, rabies, diphtheria, and measles have also emerged in the country. Meanwhile, hundreds of Yemenis have died from the latest outbreak of the H1N1 flu and 1,600 others are suspected to have contracted the disease.” Mansour, a doctor working at City Hospital in Hodeida explained to MintPress.
To make matters worse, Yemen is in the midst of the world’s worst famine. The UN has said that a record 22.2 million Yemenis are in dire need of food, including 8.4 million that are threatened immediately by severe hunger. According to the world body, Yemen is suffering from the most severe famine in over 100 years.
This is Yemen in 2020. A dirty war and a brutal siege on a forgotten people subsisting in unlivable conditions. There is no life in this country, if one is able to dodge death by war or disease, they will die from the desperation borne of the misery of their life.
The United States, for its part, continues to neglect Yemen’s suffering, despite the United Nations calling it the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. This ignorance will likely only increase in 2020. According to many Yemeni civilians who spoke to MintPress, 2020 will not bring an end to their suffering as long as the United States continues supporting the Saudi-led coalition. Such continued support will make peace in Yemen impossible, they say, as Americans turn a blind eye to the Trump administration’s policies in the Middle East.
In 2019, the U.S. Congress approved a bill to suspend American backing for the Saudi-led coalition that would have halted U.S. support for the coalition’s war. Not long after, President Donald Trump vetoed the bill, despite efforts to make adjustments. Alas, if the 2020 Pentagon budget is any indication, the United States will not end its involvement in the war in Yemen as some Yemenis had hoped. Impunity from the United States, which enables the Saudi-led war with its vast military support, will almost certainly continue into the coming year.
Grim prospects for peace
Efforts to end the five-year-long war in Yemen seemed to have been gaining momentum last year but ultimately failed to bring peace to the war-torn country. However, several small steps were taken in 2019 to address the impasse between Yemen’s Houthi resistance and coalition countries led by Saudi Arabia. Those steps, which included the withdrawal of forces by the United Arab Emirates and a small number of prisoner releases, in reality, only addressed the tensions that arose immediately following the Houthi detention of three Saudi-coalition brigades in Najran in August and their attacks on Saudi oil facilities in September.
Fadhel Abbas Jahaf, a Yemen analyst based in Sanaa said, “During the last few years many have tried to portray peace efforts as positive. Yet this departs from the realities on the ground and reflects a lack of comprehension about the Saudi-led coalition’s strategic ambitions in the country.” Jahaf’s comments reflect the frustration of many Yemenis, whose hopes have been repeatedly dashed by one failed peace process after another. The Saudi-coalition’s political will for a peaceful resolution, most Yemenis feel, simply does not exist.
Though there are indirect talks between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia, few are holding out hope that they can bring an end to the bitter Yemeni war in 2020. Indeed, Riyadh seems to be pursuing a policy of shielding itself from the blowback of the war instead of seeking an end to the war itself, according to a high-ranking Houthi official.
Negotiations between the two sides, even on minor issues, often reach a dead end. Numerous negotiations between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia have failed, including UN-brokered peace talks in Switzerland last year. Previous talks also broke down in 2016, when 108 days of negotiations in Kuwait failed to yield a deal. Separate talks that same year in Dhahran between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia also failed.
Saudi Arabia is bogged down in Yemen as it has failed to achieve any of its objectives in the devastating war it launched against its southern neighbor in 2015. Saudi leaders promised a decisive victory in a matter of weeks, one to two months at most. However, five years on, Saudi Arabia is drowning in Yemen.
A new year brings new tension
In recent months, mutual threats have between the coalition and the Houthi-allied Yemeni army have returned in the wake of Saudi attacks on a bustling market in Sadda in December that killed and injured at least 80 migrants and local residents. The attacks, according to Houthi officials, show that Saudi Arabia is not genuinely seeking peace.
For its part, the Houthi-allied Yemeni army resumed ballistic missiles attacks against Saudi Arabia, launching a ballistic missile at the leadership camp of Saudi Arabia’s Brigade 19 border guards in the southern Saudi city of Najran. That attack came in retaliation for a Saudi airstrike on the al-Raqou market in the Munabbih district in Yemen’s mountainous northwestern province of Sadaa. That attack killed 17 civilians, including 12 Ethiopian migrants in what was the third deadly assault on the same location in just over a month, according to the UN.
Moreover, the Houthis announced that they are fully prepared to strike nine strategic targets deep inside the territory of coalition countries, six of which are located in Saudi Arabia and the rest in the United Arab Emirates. “We believe that attacks on Saudi Arabia are the only hope to make 2020 different, stop the war and lift the blockade on our country,” Jahaf told MintPress.
Brigadier General Yahya Saree, the spokesman for Yemen’s Houthi-allied armed forces, announced that 2020 year would be the year of air defenses; and that Yemeni forces would work to develop their military industries and enhance their inventory of various types of deterrence capabilities.
In the wake of Saree’s statement, Yemeni air defenses shot down four Saudi-led coalition military drones, including a Chinese-made Phantom Drone that was shot down while on a reconnaissance mission in al-Tina area of the Hayran district. The development came only hours after a Turkish-built Vestel Karayel drone was shot down with a precision missile. On Monday, a Saudi-led spy drone was shot down as it was flying over the Razih district of the country’s northwestern province of Saada. A drone was shot down in Hodeida western Yemen on the same day.
Even amid such obvious signs of escalation, the UN emergency relief chief claimed in December that Yemen’s war is showing promising signs of winding down in 2020. The UN has so far disregarded the deep-rooted motives and structural issues driving the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. Even if new initiatives do occur in the coming year, they will not achieve much unless Yemenis are finally allowed to decide their own fate. Short of that, the war in Yemen will likely continue to escalate in 2020. More civilians will lose their lives, more people will become internally displaced, the spread of epidemics will continue unabated, more cities, hospitals, and schools will be destroyed, and millions of helpless families will be left with no means of sustenance.
Feature photo | Bodies covered in plastic lie on the ground amid the rubble of a building destroyed by Saudi-led airstrikes, that killed at least 60 people and wounding several dozen more, Sept. 1, 2019. Hani Mohammed | AP
Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.