SANA’A: As a ceasefire deadline in war-ravaged Yemen draws near, civilians hope the truce will be extended - fearing any fresh fighting would wipe out the small gains they have made.
In the militia-held capital Sana’a, agriculture graduate Loujain Al Ouazir has been working to raise goats and chicken poultry for three years on a farm on top of one the ancient city’s iconic mud brick tower houses.
Ouazir only managed to make the farm successful in recent months amid the truce, which allowed goods to move more freely and cut the price of supplies.
“Thanks to the truce, the prices of animal feed and fuel have come down,” Ouazir said. “It’s easier to bring in feed and goats from other regions.”
Yemen’s war between Iran-backed Al Houthi militia and a Saudi-led Arab coalition has left hundreds of thousands dead and created what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
A UN-brokered ceasefire, which took effect in April and has twice been renewed, has reduced casualties by 60 per cent and quadrupled fuel imports into the rebel-held Hodeida port, more than 40 humanitarian groups said on Thursday.
The truce has largely held, although the rival sides have traded blame over violations.
October 2 deadline
Ouazir said the relative peace - especially an end to air strikes in Sana’a - has created a safer environment for her business of selling milk and eggs.
“I hope the truce will continue until the war stops completely,” she said, adding that she dreamt of expanding her farm “on the ground, and not on the roof of the house”.
The truce is due to expire on Sunday, with the UN working to ensure each side agrees to extend once again.
Under the truce, commercial flights have resumed from Sana’a to Jordan and Egypt, while oil tankers have been able to dock in Hodeida, also under Huthi control.
The series of temporary truces have brought some respite to a people exhausted by eight years of war, where about 23.4 million of Yemen’s population of 30 million rely on humanitarian aid.
But there has been little fundamental progress towards peace.
A seige remains in place on Taez, a large city in the southwest controlled by the government but surrounded by Houthi forces.
Despite the ceasefire, the main roads around the mountainous city remain shut.
In the centre of Taez, old pickups are packed tight with passengers who want to go to the nearby town of Al Hawban, taking bumpy back roads through the mountain.
Before the war, it was a simple journey of 15 minutes.
“Now I need four or five hours,” Taez resident Bassem al-Sabri said.
Diego Zorrilla, UN deputy humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, said the truce had improved the situation “in many respects” but “life remains difficult” for the vast majority.
“From a humanitarian point of view, the renewal of the truce on October 2 is a moral imperative,” Zorrilla said.
“Only a resolution of the conflict can allow the economy to recover, lift people out of poverty and reduce humanitarian needs,” he added.
Talks to strike a lasting peace deal and a definitive end to the war remain at a standstill.
In May, the UN envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, said the truce “presented a window of opportunity to break with the violence and suffering of the past”.
But in view of the stalled peace talks, a key aim of the truce, it has therefore “fundamentally changed nothing” and is proving to be “a failure in certain respects”, said Thomas Juneau, from the University of Ottawa.
“On the Houthi side, there is no serious will to negotiate and therefore to make compromises with the government,” said Juneau.
On the government side, differences between multiple anti-militia factions have widened.
“We have seen the lines of fracture which were very deep widen, tensions worsen and, in many cases, become violent,” he said.
For Juneau, there is an “absurdity in renewing a truce which does not work”, and which therefore only “delays the return” of violence.
But, he added, “I don’t see any other alternative.”