Home/Daniel Larison/The Saudi Blockade Keeps Killing Yemenis with Starvation and Disease

The Saudi Blockade Keeps Killing Yemenis with Starvation and Disease

Dan de Luce and Robbie Gramer report on the latest effort in the Senate to pressure the Trump administration on Yemen:

One Republican lawmaker is waging a quiet battle to persuade the Donald Trump administration to pressure Saudi Arabia to end its stranglehold on aid to Yemen, which is facing a spiraling humanitarian crisis with millions of lives threatened by disease and hunger. A Saudi-imposed blockade on fuel and other supplies is the main cause of the man-made catastrophe, aid agencies say, as Riyadh pursues its war against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Sen. Todd Young, an Indiana Republican, is holding up the confirmation of the State Department’s nominee for legal advisor, former George W. Bush official Jennifer Newstead, until the Trump administration takes steps to force its Saudi ally to ease the blockade and allow more humanitarian aid into Yemen.

Sen. Young has been doing important work in calling attention to the harmful effects of the Saudi-led coalition’s blockade and their resistance to replacing the damaged and destroyed cranes at the port of Hodeidah. As long as the coalition is impeding the delivery of humanitarian aid, the U.S. is legally required not to provide them with military assistance, but the administration ignores this. Aid shipments have started to trickle in over the last week or so, but even once humanitarian aid flows freely without any delays the needs of Yemen’s population won’t be met until the coalition permits the resumption of commercial imports. Yemen is a country that is heavily dependent on imports for food staples and for its fuel supply, so the full blockade has been compounding an already horrific humanitarian crisis created by the last two and a half years of partial blockade.

The U.N. Secretary-General has also called for a halt to all attacks and demanded that commercial imports be allowed back in:

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Sunday urged warring parties in Yemen to stop all ground and air assaults and called for a resumption of all commercial imports into the country because “millions of children, women and men risk mass hunger, disease and death.”

Oxfam’s Scott Paul gave an interview with the Council on Foreign Relations’ Zachary Laub last week, and he emphasized the importance of bringing in commercial shipments of fuel to stave off multiple disasters:

The most important commodity is fuel, followed by food and medicine. Many parts of Yemen have already run out of fuel or will run out of fuel in the coming days. It’s needed to pump and treat water, run hospitals, and refrigerate everything from food to medicine, not to mention to enable transport of people and of aid workers. Without fuel, the predicted famine, the likes of which many of us have never lived through, will still be on track.

There are already at least nine cities with more than two million inhabitants in north Yemen that have run out of fuel and cannot pump clean water. That puts them at greater risk of contracting water-borne diseases, and it makes it more likely that the country’s cholera epidemic might come roaring back:

A deteriorating economic situation and lack of safe drinking water, due to water sewage systems in many cities lacking fuel for the pumps, have compounded the humanitarian crisis, he said.

“This is a perfect mix to have a new explosion of a cholera epidemic at the beginning of the rainy season in March of next year,” Zagaria said in a telephone interview from Sanaa, amid four days of clashes in the capital city.

There are already over 960,000 cases of cholera, and the fuel shortage caused by the tightening of the coalition blockade threatens to keep driving that number higher. As if that weren’t awful enough, diphtheria has returned to Yemen after an absence of a quarter century and has already started claiming lives:

Diphtheria, a deadly infectious disease once thought to have been largely eradicated, has now joined cholera as a public-health scourge threatening war-torn Yemen, where a blockade by Saudi Arabia has impeded emergency aid.

Officials at the World Health Organization said Friday that at least 22 people in Yemen had died of diphtheria and nearly 200 had been sickened since it was detected three months ago.

The disease, which the medical charity Doctors Without Borders said had not been seen in Yemen for 25 years, has now spread to 13 of Yemen’s 22 governorates.

Like the cholera epidemic that preceded it, this is an outbreak of a preventable disease that would never have happened without the devastation and disruption caused by the war and blockade. The longer that the Saudis and their allies keep strangling the country and depriving it of basic necessities, the worse these conditions will get and many more innocent Yemenis will needlessly die.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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