As Yemen faces multiple political and economic crises, President Barack Obama has announced an increase in U.S. humanitarian aid this year – more than doubling the sum to $42.5 million.
The announcement comes as the truce between the government and Houthi rebels in northern Yemen shows signs of fraying and as a secessionist revolt in the south of Yemen becomes more violent. In addition, al Qaeda has established a significant presence in more remote parts of the country, and the unrest in Somalia is a short distance across the Gulf of Aden.
“We are deeply troubled by reports of fresh outbreaks of fighting in Sa’ada, and urge full compliance with the ceasefire agreement announced in February, and an end to the violence,” Obama said of the Houthi revolt.
The Yemen Interior Ministry said Wednesday that a soldier had been shot dead by a rebel in Sa’ada.
Houthi leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi said earlier this week that the government had reneged on an amnesty pledge made in May; reports from Yemen say fewer than a third of about 3,000 Houthi prisoners have been freed. Both sides in the six-year conflict accuse the other of not honoring the ceasefire conditions agreed upon in February.
Meanwhile, intelligence analysts say that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) poses a threat in several provinces – including Marib and Shabwa - and has found some tribal support because of government heavy-handedness. An airstrike last month ending up killing not its al Qaeda targets in Marib but a prominent local official who had been mediating with local tribes.
AQAP includes some Saudi men who were detained at the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay – including the group’s deputy leader, Said al-Shihri. It also includes the Yemeni-American preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, who is now in hiding but continuing to release audio and video messages urging American Muslims to wage jihad. And it was AQAP that trained Nigerian would-be airline bomber Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab.
Just as troubling to the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh is the secessionist movement in the deprived south of the country, which al Qaeda may be trying to exploit. Last week, several men armed with machine guns and grenades attacked the intelligence headquarters in Aden, enabling several detainees suspected of links to al Qaeda to escape. Government vehicles have been ambushed and oil pipelines blown up. Military posts have been attacked in Daleh province, the most volatile in the south.
In addition to its multiple security challenges, Yemen has massive unemployment, especially among its young men, and a chronic water shortage. The World Bank reported in 2008 that groundwater levels across Yemen were dropping 20-65 feet a year as a rapidly expanding population depended on often illegal wells for their water.
The U.S. assistance announced Thursday will provide food, water and sanitation, shelter, and health care to refugees in southern Yemen and nearly 300,000 people displaced by the conflict in the country’s north. The White House has called on other governments to contribute to the United Nations’ Humanitarian Response Plan, which it says “remains woefully underfunded. “ Earlier this week, Britain pledged $150 million in development aid to Yemen.
The United States has also called for a comprehensive dialogue between all opposition groups and the ruling party.
“Such a dialogue needs to be undertaken in good faith and with haste by all parties,” the White House said Thursday.
Events on the ground suggest dialogue is in short supply in Yemen right now.