The UN plan for Yemen's Hodeida is going nowhere fast

The UN plan for Yemen's Hodeida is going nowhere fast
4 min read
10 August, 2017
Analysis: The strategic port will not be given up by the Houthi militants who control it, notes Khalid Al-Karimi.
Some 80 percent of Yemen's food imports come through Hodeida's ports [AFP]

Three weeks have elapsed since the UN's plan for Hodeida port in Yemen was unveiled. The plan has not yet gone beyond the written words, and the situation in Hodeida remains unchanged.

In the middle of July, the UN envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, presented a blueprint for ending the dispute over Yemen's Hodeida port, the second largest in the country. The plan suggested that the port be run by a third, neutral party under UN supervision.

The UN proposal comes in the middle of a catastrophic humanitarian situation - one which will only worsen once armed clashes reach Hodeida port. Hodeida is a vital supply lifeline for millions of Yemenis struggling with poverty and the outbreak of contagious diseases.

According to UN envoy, reaching agreement on Hodeida would form the nucleus of a comprehensive national compromise that could guarantee the payment of public employees' salaries across Yemen to begin mitigating the suffering.


In October 2014, Houthi militants and their allies seized Hodeida city unopposed. Since then, the Houthis have had the upper hand in this province. They have full control of all facilities here, including the ports.

The Saleh-Houthi coalition has rejected the UN Hodeida plan. Yemen's powerful former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, commented: "Hodeida is not for sale or purchase." He defiantly added: "Hodeida is further than the sun."

The Houthis, the de facto authority in many northern areas, have a similarly steadfast stand. They are not willing to negotiate the handover of Hodeida.

Saleh Al-Samad, the head of the Supreme Political Council - the highest authority in Houthi-controlled territories - also told a graduation ceremony of military academy students in Sanaa "the military forces will not negotiate regarding Hodeida".

Feature continues below map of Yemen's ports

The statements of both leaders signal their unwillingness to capitulate, and hint that they are eager to resort to military force to keep control of Hodeida and its ports.

Meanwhile, the Saudi-backed Yemeni government is resolute that Hodeida is to be run by a third, neutral party.

The foreign affairs minister of Yemen's exiled government approved the UN Hodeida plan.

The government-in-exile insist that Houthi militants should be withdrawn from Hodeida. Given these completely differing stances of the parties to the conflict, Hodeida could be at risk of armed confrontation in the near future.

Why is Hodeida important? 

Located on Yemen's western coast, Hodeida is a strategic treasure. Some 230 kilometres from the capital Sanaa, the rivalry over Hodeida is attributed to its geopolitical significance overlooking the Red Sea. Today, about 80 percent of Yemen's food imports arrive through Hodeida province.

Whomever controls Hodeida can, if they so choose, threaten the safety of international maritime fleets

Hodeida has three ports: Al-Hodeida port, Al-Salif Port and Al-Khawkhah port. These ports have a tremendous economic value, and the party that controls them can generate handsome revenues.

In addition to the economic leverage associated with Hodeida's ports, controlling Hodeida city is key to dominating strategic islands in the Red Sea, including the Hanish islands. Whomever controls Hodeida can, if they so choose, threaten the safety of international maritime fleets.

Saudi-led airstrikes have devastated
much of Hodeida city [Getty]

It's not only the Yemeni government that has its eyes on Hodeida, but the Saudi-led coalition - which has been bombing Yemen since March 2015.

In a statement to Reuters in May, a coalition spokesman said: "Hodeida and its port will remain an unwavering demand for regaining legitimacy in Yemen and extending the legitimate government's authority over all lands of the Yemeni republic."

The recent UN Hodeida plan therefore seems to be doomed to failure as the Houthis have little trust in the UN's intentions. The Houthis and their allies instead want an end to the blockade on Yemen and the Saudi-led airstrikes.

Sanaa parliament presents peace proposal 

Peace plans have been presented many times, but they have all gone nowhere. Two weeks ago, the pro-Houthi-Saleh parliament in Sanaa proposed a peace proposal to bring the conflict to an end. The plan unleashed a heated debate in Yemen's social media.

The first demand prioritised the cessation of the war and all military action - as well as lifting the air, sea and land blockade imposed on Yemen.

The second focused on the sea ports, border crossings and airports. The proposal called on the United Nations to put forward a mechanism to operate and monitor the functioning of all marine ports, airports and border crossings across the whole country without exception.

Such a mechanism would enable the Houthi-Saleh government to fulfill financial obligations including the payment of public sector salaries as well as the supply of food and medicines. The parliament also called for inclusive peace talks without preconditions under the auspices of the UN. 

Whether this proposal is reasonable and applicable or not, no peace efforts have yet help settle the conflict in this war-ravaged nation. The latest proposal of the Sanaa parliament is unlikely to be followed by a blueprint for serious action - and the UN's Hodeida plan is likely to become merely the latest of Yemen's failed endeavours for peace.

Khalid Al-Karimi is a freelance reporter and translator. He is a staff member of the Sanaa-based Yemeni Media Center and previously worked as a full-time editor and reporter for the Yemen Times newspaper. 

Follow him on Twitter: @Khalidkarimi205