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The People of Yemen Still Face Famine

Bruce Riedel calls for the U.S. to pressure the Saudi coalition to end their blockade of Yemen:

For the war to end, the Biden administration will need to lay out a political process that entices the Houthis to a ceasefire. A good place to start is the Saudi blockade, which is the cause of the humanitarian catastrophe. Washington should call for the immediate and unconditional end to the blockade and allow civilian traffic to Yemen’s ports and airports. The United Nations says that 16 million Yemenis are malnourished, and the situation is getting worse at an alarming rate.

The blockade is an offensive military operation that kills civilians. Opening the blockade would be an act of goodwill and expose the war to more outside observers. Linking lifting the blockade to a ceasefire is a recipe for prolonging the suffering of the Yemeni people. The two issues need to be decoupled.

The need to lift the blockade is greater than ever. The recent international donor conference raised less than half of the money that aid agencies desperately need to continue assisting the millions of Yemenis suffering from malnutrition and disease. The conference’s goal was $3.8 billion, and the conference donors offered up only $1.7 billion. Yemen has suffered from international neglect and inadequate humanitarian relief for the last six years, and things have only become worse over time. Six years of economic warfare, blockade, and international indifference have taken a staggering toll on the civilian population. Tens of thousands of Yemenis already live in famine-like conditions, and many more will fall into the same state in the near future if there is not a major, sustained relief effort. An estimated five million people are on the edge of starvation.

Jan Egeland of the Norwegian Refugee Council is witnessing the extent of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen right now:

What is happening to the people of Yemen is unimaginably cruel. Aid groups are catastrophically underfunded and overstretched. The parties to this senseless war specialize in producing suffering and the weapon of choice is hunger.

Mark Lowcock, Ignazio Cassis, Ann Linde, and Per Olsson Fridh write this week warning of a creeping famine that threatens to kill hundreds of thousands of children. The U.N. has been sounding the alarm on this for weeks, as have leadingaid organizations. The funding shortfall at Monday’s conference is likely a death sentence for many thousands of Yemenis that rely on humanitarian aid to survive. The U.S. needs to move to fill the gap left by other states whose contributions have steadily decreased in the last few years. The U.S. needs to resume full funding for its aid operations following last year’s disastrous decision to suspend most aid in Houthi-controlled areas.

The Biden administration took some of the right steps on Yemen in its first weeks in office, but it still needs to move quickly to stave off a famine that has been created in part by years of U.S. support for the Saudi coalition and the Hadi government. Biden has started to undo the damage done by his predecessor, but much more needs to be done to pull the people of Yemen back out of the abyss that our government helped push them into. Famine in Yemen has been man-made and it is driven by the ongoing war. It can also be averted if the U.S. and other governments responsible for the disaster work to prevent it now. If Biden wants to prove that “America is back” in a constructive leadership role, he needs to make funding the relief effort for Yemen and securing a ceasefire top priorities in the next few months. If the world fails Yemen yet again, it will likely mean millions of preventable deaths of innocent people.

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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