Yemen in Focus: Cable damage wipes out 80% of country's internet connectivity

Yemen in Focus: Cable damage wipes out 80% of country's internet connectivity
This week we focus on Yemen's days-long internet outage, another year of humanitarian catastrophe and more.
6 min read
15 January, 2020
The outage was caused by a damage to the cables [Getty]
Damage to a submarine cable in the region plunged Yemen into internet outage for at least six days earlier this week.

The Falcon cable, which runs underwater in the Red Sea region, affected some 80 percent of Yemen's internet connections, which already suffers from slow speed and frequent cuts.

Messages sent to customers from Yemen's main telecommunications companies YemenNet and TeleYemen, confirmed the outage was due to a damaged underwater cable in the Suez canal, which also hit connectivity in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Sudan and Ethiopia, reports confirmed.

GCX, which owns the Falcon cable linking Muscat and the Suez Port, confirmed an anchor from a large vessel in the vicinity of the cables had caused major damage.

The company said it had deployed teams to repair the damage after acquiring necessary permits from authorities in the region.

The internet outage caused major disruptions in Yemen, where millions rely on internet connections to conduct day to day business or communicate via popular messaging apps.

"Places like Yemen just don't have a lot of redundancy, because they have underdeveloped infrastructure. So you have a situation where, despite the fact that there are more cables in the region, the country can still get taken out by the loss of a single cable," Doug Madory, director of internet analysis for Oracle Internet Intelligence told The Wired.

More bad news for Yemen surfaced this week when an annual watchlist of countries most likely to face humanitarian catastrophes listed Yemen as number one for the second year in a row.

The International Rescue Committee warned Yemen's devastating war could see the country plunge into a darker abyss, noting another five years of the conflict could cost £22 billion.

Yemen's devastating war could see the country plunge into a darker abyss... another five years of the conflict could cost £22 billion

Yemenis living in the country, which has suffered from nearly five years of war, are expected to require humanitarian assistance in 2020, analysis by the group said.

"2019 was a devastating year for civilians caught in crisis worldwide," said IRC president and CEO David Miliband.

"Across the globe, the scale of need in 2020 is … likely to stretch resources beyond their limit. It's vital that we do not abandon these countries when they need us most, and that governments around the world step up funding to these anticipated crises before more lives are lost – and the bill for humanitarian catastrophe rises."

Yemen's conflict began in 2014 when the Houthi rebels overran the capital and other major cities in the north of the country, forcing the internationally-recognised government of Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi to flee to the southern port city of Aden, where it established a temporary capital.

Read more: Yemen in Focus: Houthis stand by Iranian allies after 'criminal' Soleimani killing

The war escalated months later in March 2015 after a Saudi-led coalition intervened in the country, imposing a brutal bombing campaign that has since left thousands of civilians dead.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed and millions more displaced in what the United Nations has described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

"As humanitarians, we can prevent the dying, but it takes politics to stop the killing," he said.

"But to truly address these challenges, it is vital that the international community, led by the UN Security Council members, take long-term approaches, re-engage their diplomatic muscle to prevent and resolve conflict and reinvigorate their support of international humanitarian law and accountability for those who violate it.

"Otherwise, the consequences of these humanitarian crises – massive displacement, women and girls at risk of violence, widespread hunger, demolished health systems, a lost generation of children with no chance of education – offer no hope of abating."

Syria, Nigeria, Venezuela and the Democratic Republic of the Congo also made the list of top five countries likely to face humanitarian catastrophe this year.

As humanitarians, we can prevent the dying, but it takes politics to stop the killing

UN voting

Meanwhile on Friday, the United Nations also named Yemen among seven countries, including Lebanon, Venezuela, Central African Republic, Gambia, Lesotho and Tonga, which have lost UN voting privilege.

Yemenis face another year of war, and callous western silence
Read also: Yemenis face another year of
war, and callous western silence

The named countries have fallen behind in their financial contributions and would not be able to vote in the 74th session of the General Assembly, the global body said.

Under Article 19 of the Charter of the United Nations, member states that are behind on the payment of dues in an amount that equals or exceeds the contributions due for two preceding years can lose their vote in the General Assembly.

However, member states that can show their inability to pay due to conditions beyond their control are allowed an exception. 

In more positive news this week, the UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths reportedly met with Yemen's President Hadi in the Saudi capital on Monday, where he has been since the war escalated in 2015. 

Hadi's Vice President Ali Mohsen Saleh joined the discussions with the UN official, both stressing the government's strong desires to implement the Hodeida Agreement, as well as the need to restore security and stability in the war-torn country.

Griffiths reportedly outlined his vision to peace with a new round of confidence building measures between the government and the Houthi rebels.

Failed agreement

Hadi's meetings with the UN came just a day after a high-ranking European Union delegation made a crucial visit to Aden to discuss the Riyadh Agreement which has stalled more than two months after it was announced.

Read more: Preferring to stay silent: Why journalists in Yemen are giving up on their career

The EU Ambassador to Yemen, Hans Grundberg, French Ambassador to Yemen, Christian Tiesto, and non-resident Swiss Federation Ambassador to Yemen, Balz Abeplanalp, met with Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik at the government headquarters in the temporary capital, local Saba Net reported.

"The delegation will discuss with the prime minister the possibility of implementing the political and military aspects of the Riyadh agreement and strengthening financial support for the government," a source revealed prior to the meeting.

Last August, deadly clashes broke out between the government and the secessionist Southern Transitional Council [STC], which seized control of the southern city of Aden.

While both the government and the STC are technically allies in the long war against the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels, the secessionists believe the south should be an independent – as it was before forced unification in 1990.

The deal set a timetable for the government's return to Aden, the appointment of a new head of security and a governor of the city, as well as the formation of a new 24-member cabinet with equal representation for southerners.

Abdulmalik returned to the city but the two sides have failed to meet the other deadlines which were all to be in place within a month of the signing. 

The deal to resolve a tussle for control in the south, dubbed a "civil war within a civil war", was hailed as a stepping stone towards ending the wider conflict in Yemen when it was struck in Riyadh last November.

However, the power-sharing agreement between the Yemeni government and southern separatists is effectively defunct more than two months after it was signed, increasing fears of renewed hostilities.

Yemen In Focus is a new, regular feature from The New Arab.

Sana Uqba is a journalist at The New Arab. 

Follow her on Twitter: @Sanasiino