Yemen

A crisis with no end in sight: How the ongoing crisis in Taiz Governorate continues to put civilians at risk

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INTRODUCTION

For almost six years, civilians have borne the brunt of the conflict in Yemen.
Active fighting continues, including airstrikes, shelling and ground fighting. All parties to the conflict have shown disregard for international humanitarian law (IHL), attacking civilians and civilian infrastructure including roads, medical centres and healthcare facilities, schools, factories, water and electricity infrastructure, farms, public marketplaces and civilian vehicles. Even settlements for internally displaced people (IDPs) have been hit.

December 2020 marks two years since the warring parties came together to sign the Stockholm Agreement, a UN-brokered accord that contained three parts:

  1. The Hudaydah Agreement, which included a commitment to a ceasefire in the city of Hudaydah and the Red Sea ports of Hudaydah, Salif and Ras Issa, as well as a ‘mutual redeployment of forces’;

  2. A prisoner exchange agreement, aiming to release more than 15,000 prisoners and detainees in total; and

  3. The Taiz Understanding, whereby the parties agreed to establish a joint committee to address the situation in Taiz, a city that has been effectively under siege since the conflict escalated in 2015.

Stockholm was the first time in over two years that the internationally recognized Yemeni government and the Ansar Allah leadership had met, and it represented an important window of opportunity for further discussion.
However, two years on, the results of the peace talks are still only partially felt on the ground.

There has been some progress on the first two parts of the accord: a largescale assault on the city of Hudaydah was avoided, and in October 2020, more than 1,000 prisoners were released. However, there have been no concerted efforts made to advance implementation of the Taiz Understanding.

In March 2020, the UN Secretary-General called upon the warring parties to commit to a nationwide ceasefire in Yemen to allow an effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Only 51% of Yemen’s health facilities are functioning, and the country has desperately low testing capacity, a total of only 700 intensive care beds, and just 500 ventilators for a population of over 30 million people. Regardless, violence continues on numerous frontlines, including in Hudaydah, Marib, al-Jawf, Taiz, al-Dhale’e, Abyan and parts of Sana’a.

Throughout the conflict, protection of civilians has remained a major concern. Almost 4 million people have been forced to flee their homes, including over 166,000 in 2020. Many have experienced multiple waves of displacement due to shifting frontlines or heavy rains and flooding that have destroyed their makeshift shelters. Women, men, girls and boys in Yemen – particularly those who have been displaced or are members of marginalized groups such as the Muhamasheen – have faced huge risks to their safety, security and wellbeing. A lack of access to services has further undermined their protection and led them to adopt negative coping mechanisms to survive.

Humanitarian actors in Yemen continue to encounter significant challenges, amid increasing dependence on humanitarian aid as the only lifeline for millions of people. Protection services, including shelters for survivors of gender-based violence, are often prohibited by the authorities, while severe funding shortages have led to the closure of life-saving assistance. For instance, the number of community centres providing protection services – including for survivors of gender-based violence and sexual abuse – has fallen from 37 in 2019 to only 19 in 2020 due to lack of funds.

There are few other places in Yemen where the conflict has so dramatically affected the lives of ordinary Yemenis than Taiz Governorate. Taiz city, the governorate’s capital, has been at the centre of some of the most intense fighting Yemen has seen, primarily between Ansar Allah, which controls much of northern Yemen, and the internationally recognized government backed by a Saudi- and UAE-led coalition.

This briefing note outlines some of the main protection concerns facing IDPs and host communities in Taiz Governorate. It is based on six focus group discussions (FGDs) with members of Oxfam’s community-based protection networks (CBPNs) from a total of 18 IDP and host communities. The meetings were held with separate groups of men and women in two locations in Taiz governorate in October 2020. Individual interviews were also carried out with staff from 10 local humanitarian organizations based in Taiz.

The findings paint a grim picture. People explained how they no longer feel safe and are unable to access the basic services they need to survive, including food, clean water and healthcare. Many have been displaced more than once over the past six years, and the ongoing conflict has had a devastating impact on their health and well-being. Many of the indirect consequences of the conflict – including a shortage of services, lack of livelihood opportunities, and tensions between communities that have been thrown together and must share limited resources – are also increasing people’s sense of insecurity and leading them to take desperate measures that often present their own risks.