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Priorities and challenges

Identifying Urgent Needs in the Short Term

The urgent needs were broadly similar in all governorates. Five main issues were identified: ending the ‘national conflict’ between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis, ending conflict at the local governorate level, identifying a roadmap for long-term peace, improving basic services, and restoring and protecting the environment (Table 2). Indeed, if there is one striking feature from the survey results, it is that eight out of nine governorates noted environmental concerns (living conditions and natural resource issues)  as either their first or second priority.

The study did not seek to oversimplify the complex situation, but to assess whether there were competing, contradictory or overlapping views. Perhaps unsurprisingly, across all governorates, all five issues were seen as both urgent and important. In seven of the nine governorates, ending the national conflict ranked at the top; this was considered a matter of utmost urgency by almost all participants in the consultation process. After that, the most immediate issues identified in these governorates were restoring and protecting the environment and accessing basic services. Study participants identified restoring and protecting the environment (which was interpreted to include issues related to waste management, water quality and destroyed buildings in addition to nature and natural resources) as the main priority in Ma’rib, Al-Maharah, Taiz and Aden, followed by ending the national conflict. Taiz has experienced a high intensity and duration of hostilities and destruction, yet still ranks environmental concerns highly. While ending local violence between factions was considered important, it was perceived as a lower priority than ending the national conflict or establishing a roadmap for long-term peace in all governorates. 

Table 2. Urgent Needs, by Governorate

GovernoratePriority #1%Priority #2%Priority #3%
ShabwahEnding the main war22.1Environment21.9Improving basic services and normalising life20.6
TaizEnvironment20.6Ending the main war20.5Improving basic services and normalising life19.9
Al-MaharahEnvironment21.6Ending the main war21.4Improving basic services and normalising life20.7
AdenEnvironment23.3Ending the main war20.1Improving basic services and normalising life20.1
Al-HodeidahEnding the main war21.6Improving basic services and normalising life20.7Identifying a national roadmap for long-term peace19.7
Ma’ribEnvironment21.4Ending the main war21.2Improving basic services and normalising life20.1
Sana’aEnding the main war23.2Environment22.3Improving basic services and normalising life20.4
Al-Dhale’eEnding the main war26.3Environment20.3Identifying a national roadmap for long-term peace18.9
HajjahEnding the main war25Environment21.1Improving basic services and normalising life20

The focus groups and community dialogues permitted greater space for discussion, and participants identified additional issues. In all nine governorates, participants emphasized that ending the war and the associated hostilities was an urgent priority; however, there were important differences regarding which parties was perceived to be the main aggressors and the degree to which the international community should try to pressure them. The community dialogue forum in Sana’a was particularly critical of foreign interference in Yemeni affairs, even in the context of assisting peace negotiations, whereas participants in other locations preferred much greater international attention applied to warring sides and armed militias. In some cases, such as Al-Dhale’e and Shabwah, focus group and community dialogue participants wanted international actors like the UN or EU to compel the parties into a mandatory truce which could then be monitored, ideally with some form of punishment for violations.

Among the needs expressed in all governorates, access to basic rights (food, water, electricity, medicine, security and education) was widely mentioned as a pressing necessity to be addressed even before the end of the war. Participants emphasised restoring electricity supplies, as a higher death toll was being registered due to the heat. Common priorities included opening safe corridors and ensuring the freedom of movement (within and across governorates) to achieve economic recovery, and addressing the deterioration of the Yemeni currency, which is expected to impact the humanitarian crisis. These priorities were followed by facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid and ending the shelling of civilian neighbourhoods. Concerns about the humanitarian situation and basic services were particularly pronounced in discussions in Hajjah, because it is so densely populated, and in Al-Hodeidah, which was experiencing conflict at the time.

Each governorate also expressed the urgency of addressing specific issues related to its context. In Taiz, the vast majority of participants stressed the need to lift the Houthi blockade and to remove mines, end the random shelling of civilian neighbourhoods, and disarm the militias. In Shabwah and Aden, participants stressed the need to immediately resolve the conflict between the government and the STC, which they said is ripping the social fabric apart and creating further strife. Furthermore, in Aden and Al-Hodeidah, respondents unanimously called for the implementation of the Stockholm Agreement and UN resolutions. In Al-Hodeidah, participants demanded that the situation with the Safer oil storage facility is urgently addressed, as it represents an impending environmental disaster that would be catastrophic for the governate and the country as a whole. For participants from Al-Dhale’e, Hajjah, Al-Maharah and Ma’rib, priorities included addressing the needs and eventual return of displaced persons. In the Al-Maharah interviews and focus groups, the influx of IDPs was cited as a significant source of concern due to instability fuelled by demographic changes and the inability of the local infrastructure to serve everyone’s needs. In addition, Hajjah focus group and community dialogue participants were especially concerned about the conflict’s impact on youth and children –in terms of both mobilisation to join the fighting and the entrenchment of sectarian or religious divisions in the next generation. Such concerns were voiced in interviews and focus groups even in Sana’a, where the more open format presumably permitted some degree of criticism of Houthi governance.

Longer-Term Priorities When the War Ends

While the distinction between urgent and longer-term priorities may seem relatively subtle, and there was indeed overlap in the framing of the questions, the goal was for respondents to imagine a future situation after the most immediate issues are dealt with. The study encouraged them to move beyond the primary need for a sustainable ceasefire to identify concerns that need to be addressed in order for peace to last in the short to medium term.

The questionnaires asked respondents to consider several areas of activity after the war stops: provision of basic services, job opportunities, reconstruction, compensation, legal guarantees to respect human rights and protect against abuse and prosecution, reform of judicial and state institutions, development of the education sector, and environmental protection and restoration. Respondents could select multiple areas and indicate the level of importance they attached to them. While the information gathered is rich and complex, the conclusions were often relatively predictable, given the severity of the ongoing conflict and the context of acute humanitarian hardship (Table 3). Many issues were deemed critically important to the public at large. Providing basic services was the most urgent priority across all governorates, followed by a claim for equal job opportunities in Ma’rib, Shabwah and Al-Hodeidah, and the need to compensate those affected in Sana’a, Hajjah and Al-Dhale’e. Taiz was the only governorate in which calls to reform the judicial system and police were considered the second-most urgent priority. In Aden and Al-Maharah, the demand for basic services was followed by an emphasis on an improved education sector. 

Table 3. Longer-term Priorities, by Governorate

GovernoratePriority #1%Priority #2%Priority #3%
ShabwahBasic services16.2Equal job opportunities13.1Compensation12.8
TaizBasic services15.3Reform of judiciary and police institutions13.2Education 12.8
Al-MaharahBasic services12.9Education12.7Equal job opportunities12.7
AdenBasic services14Education12.9Equal job opportunities12.7
Al-HodeidahBasic services13.4Equal job opportunities12.6Compensation12.6
Ma’ribBasic services13.8Equal job opportunities13.1Compensation12.8
Sana’aBasic services15.6Compensation14.5Education13.2
Al-Dhale’eBasic services19.9Compensation14Equal job opportunities13.5
HajjahBasic services16.8Compensation14.1Equal job opportunities13.6

Developing the education sector, equal job opportunities, and compensation and reconstruction were urgent and indispensable priorities in all governorates. Demands for institutional reform and reconstruction, while significant, were noticeably lower than for basic services and education.

While all the issues across the nine governorates received a high degree of attention and importance, in Al-Maharah all categories were seen as equally urgent. In Al-Dhale’e, the demand for basic services outweighed all other responses by a significant margin. In contrast to the findings on immediate short-term needs, restoring and protecting the environment was considered a less urgent priority. This warrants further examination to better assess whether the sense of urgency in responses is connected to repairing the destruction caused by the war or to broader environmental factors like the impact of climate change and environmental degradation. Providing legal guarantees for respecting human rights and providing protections against abuse and prosecution were considered equally urgent as protecting the environment. 

The more open-ended field interviews, focus groups and community dialogues allowed participants to further elaborate and expand on their priorities. Across the governorates, participants in the consultation process expressed the importance of normalising life and believed that immediate attention should be paid to addressing the poor economic and living conditions, as well as paying public salaries. Concerns about the currency devaluation were shared in virtually each governorate’s community dialogue, though sometimes they were seen as an immediate priority and at other times as a longer-term one related to economic recovery and stability. In the steps towards reconciliation, participants said the focus should be on ensuring the return and safety of IDPs, prisoner releases, removing land and sea mines, and ending human rights violations, followed by large-scale reconstruction and the resumption of state-led development projects, paying special attention to improving the education sector. 

Most survey and interview participants agreed that addressing people’s priorities will pave the way toward successful reconciliation efforts. They stressed that implementing peace at the lower levels (local communities) would impact and gradually lead to reconciliation at the national level. Participants in most focus groups observed that insufficient attention is paid to the demands of the general public; many argued that peace and reconciliation efforts start at that level. Participants also noted the importance of building confidence between the conflicting parties to achieve peace, and rehabilitating those affected by the war psychologically and socially.

Participants also highlighted concerns that were unique to particular governorates. For instance, in Al-Hodeidah they underscored the need to address the challenging circumstances faced by fishermen; the war has forced them to cease fishing due to ongoing fighting, security restrictions and sea mines. This has had a devastating impact because fishing was previously a main source of livelihood for thousands of families; some are now starving. The disarmament of non-state armed groups was mentioned in several community dialogues, including Aden, Hajjah and Ma’rib, as one of the main challenges after a potential peace deal. As expected, the question of how to address southern demands for autonomy or secession featured prominently in discussions in the southern governorates. The approaches differed, but this question was seen as relevant to both the sustainability of future peace deals and to demands to remedy past injustices and marginalisation.

Other Peacebuilding Challenges 

In addition to needs, survey respondents identified which of the seven options provided constitute the most important obstacle to peacebuilding other than war in their area. The margins between answers were small, with a maximum variance of 7 per cent between the issues selected as the most vs. least important challenges. Across the nine governorates, the challenges that were most often in the top three were lack of income, corruption of local leaders and instability/lack of security (Table 4).  

Table 4. Main Obstacles to Peacebuilding, by Governorate

GovernorateChallenge #1%Challenge #2%Challenge #3%
ShabwahTribal revenge issues15.9Lack of sources of income15.1Corruption of local leaders14.8
TaizLack of sources of income15.5Instability/lack of security15.3Corruption of local leaders15.2
Al-MaharahTribal revenge issues14.5Conflict over land14.4Marginalisation14.3
AdenInstability/lack of security15.4Corruption of local leaders15.3Conflict over land14.8
Al-HodeidahLack of sources of income14.9Marginalisation14.9Corruption of local leaders14.4
Ma’ribLack of incentives to forgo arms15.1Lack of sources of income14.6Instability/lack of security14.4
Sana’aLack of incentives to forgo arms15.9Corruption of local leaders15.2Instability/lack of security14.8
Al-Dhale’eInstability/lack of security16.9Lack of sources of income16.9Marginalisation16.8
HajjahLack of sources of income15.4Lack of incentives to forgo arms14.6Tribal revenge issues14.6

While there was significant overlap between what different governorates considered to be challenges to peacebuilding, some stood out as unique. For instance, none of the most popular answers featured in Al-Maharah’s top three challenges, which were tribal revenge, conflict over land and marginalisation. This reflects the context of the governorate: it is less directly affected by the conflict than the others, and has experienced a strong influx of IDPs and attempts at interference from external regional actors, thereby exacerbating concerns around land and tensions related to local tribes and tribal confederations. Issues related to tribal revenge were also in the top three in Hajjah and Shabwa, which also have a stronger tribal presence. In the other governorates tribal revenge issues were deemed one of the least significant challenges of the options presented.

The results from Aden highlight the nexus between the corruption of local leaders and conflict over land in this governorate, which witnessed widespread land grabbing after the 1994 civil war, in the aftermath of the Arab Spring as well as after the post-2015 expulsion of the Houthis; corruption of individuals and institutions fuels the issue. Although the margins are quite small, the issue of conflict over land featured less prominently than expected, apart from in Aden and Al-Maharah.  Marginalisation very strongly resonated as a cross-cutting issue throughout the needs mapping and consultation process, and thus features as a top three challenge to peacebuilding in Al-Maharah, Al-Hodeidah and Al-Dhale’e. 

In addition, a large majority of survey respondents (70–91 per cent) strongly agreed that a peace deal between the warring factions would help improve basic services and increase opportunities for a better livelihood in the short term. In seven of the nine governorates, most respondents assessed the current quality of services as poor; they were deemed to be slightly better in Taiz and Sana’a. On several occasions, participants in focus groups and community dialogues said it was impossible to talk reconciliation ‘on empty stomachs’ and/or ‘in the dark’ (due to a lack of basic services). Combined, this shows that there are needs related to basic services, and expectations that a settlement between the warring parties will improve the provision of services. This presents an opportunity as well as a need to identify (and invest in) short-term peace dividends, which can help fulfil community expectations from the settlement and affirm that it is in their interest to stick with peacebuilding efforts and withhold support from potential spoilers.