Yemen’s Taiz residents still drowning in woes despite deal

Yemeni citizens in Taiz doubt the power-sharing deal brokered by Saudi Arabia will help them overcome the major destruction and humanitarian disasters caused by the ongoing war and Houthi siege on their city.

al-monitor Damage is seen at a school in the southwestern city of Taiz, Yemen, Dec. 18, 2018. Photo by REUTERS/Anees Mahyoub.

Dec 6, 2019

On Nov. 18, the UN-backed Yemeni government returned from exile in Saudi Arabia to Aden under a power-sharing agreement that has raised hopes of a new chapter of peace, security and development. Over the last two months, Riyadh has been working on the deal between the government and the secessionist Southern Transitional Council (STC) — a development meant to usher in a political partnership between the sides after their bloody confrontations.

Not all Yemenis are convinced, however.

Aden witnessed a bloody fray in August, culminating in the separatists’ takeover of the city and rapid collapse of government forces after three days of clashes. With the Riyadh-brokered agreement, the government is now back in Aden, which could be a positive turning point for government-held provinces, especially in the south.

But at least one southern province —​ Taiz ​— has little chance to rid itself of the terrible, multilayered plight it has suffered. The city of the same name has been beset by the cruel war and an unrelenting siege over the last five years. A humanitarian catastrophe has been unfolding and epidemics keep surfacing. Civilians are bearing the brunt of the heavy toll.

Taiz resident Mohammed Abdulmalik displays zero hope over the government's return to Aden. “I'm not optimistic about the rapprochement between the government and the southern secessionists, and the government’s present operation from Aden will not improve the situation in Taiz,” Abdulmalik told Al-Monitor.

“Even if the government wants to mitigate the suffering of the people here, it is incapable of doing so. The government could not protect itself in Aden, and we do not expect this government to come to our rescue," he added.

On Nov. 26, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said a new outbreak of dengue fever has hit Taiz. The agency said more than 3,500 cases of dengue and many dozens of deaths have been reported there. “So you can imagine, with the violence and the fighting, it is a big challenge to control this epidemic,” Robert Mardini, the ICRC’s UN observer, told journalists.

Living in Taiz for several years, Abdulmalik said the humanitarian situation increasingly worsens and the efforts of UN organizations and charity agencies haven't been sufficient to stop the spread of epidemics or assist civilians in overcoming their economic woes.

Amer Daakam, a Taiz-based political writer, rejects the possibility that Taiz will recover from its health and economic plights anytime soon. “Solving the problem in Taiz is extremely difficult. First, the government needs to end the Houthi siege of the city, and this a tough task. Second, the government needs to prevent any further intrafighting [between the Iran-backed Houthis and government forces] in Taiz city. If these two conditions are being met, other issues will be easier to address,” Daakam told Al-Monitor. “The security situation in Taiz is volatile."

In late November, Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik met with with the governor of Taiz province, Nabil Shamsan, in Aden city, to discuss security, public services and the overall situation. The prime minister said the power-sharing deal between the government and STC will address security imbalances in all Houthi-free areas, and Taiz tops the government's priority list.

The government seems to have a package of remedial procedures to improve the service sector and stabilize cities under its jurisdiction. But it remains to be seen whether the power-sharing agreement will hold or fall apart.

Tayseer al-Samei, deputy information manager at the Health Ministry office in Taiz, said the developments give him hope for all government-controlled provinces, including Taiz.

“I am optimistic about the return of the prime minister and other government officials. It is apparently a step toward betterment. The government will contribute to supporting Taiz’s local authorities in a way that serves the interest of the population,” Samei told Al-Monitor.

The deteriorating health system in the city has given birth to myriad epidemics, according to Samei: “The health sector is an urgent priority. If no action is taken to contain the outbreak of diseases, more people will be affected and the number of deaths will rise.”

He pointed out that the health office in Taiz has documented around 10,000 cases of dengue fever and 10 fatalities since the outset of this year. “The magnitude of the tragedy is crystal clear and the government is well aware of the humanitarian crisis in the city. Our hope is that the government will leave no stone unturned to support Taiz and lift it from its current condition,” he added.

In 2015, Yemen’s Houthis toppled the government and seized vast territories in the country. A Saudi-led Arab coalition stepped in at the time in support of the government. Since then, Taiz has been divided between the Yemeni government forces and the Houthis. Both sides have a presence in different districts of Taiz. Houthis have stringent control over city entrances, making it difficult for supplies to reach everyone. This also forces people to take long detours when they move in or out of the city.

“The Houthi siege has suffocated us and made our life painful. Today, I need to spend five hours traveling from the government-controlled part of Taiz city to the Houthi-controlled Hawban district. Before the war, this distance could be covered by a car in 20 minutes,” Mohammed Abdulmalik said.

Ahmed, a pro-government soldier in Taiz city who preferred not to give his full name, can't hide his disappointment with the status quo. He told Al-Monitor, “People here have many things to fight. We need to fight epidemics, the tough living conditions and the Houthis' tight siege. We keep waiting to see the war gone."

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