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Why is the U.S. Still Suspending Aid to Yemen?

If it doesn't resume ASAP, many more will die because of terrible decisions made in Washington.

Last week, humanitarian relief organizations called for a resumption in U.S. aid to Yemen:

International aid groups are urging the U.S. government to resume at least some of its halted funding for Yemen, the war-torn country on the Arabian Peninsula, where a U.S.-backed coalition is fighting rebel forces in a conflict that’s created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The U.S. paused its funding earlier this year because those rebels, known as the Houthis, have impeded humanitarian access or stolen aid. But the blanket pause has hurt Yemeni civilians, the groups warned, as programs to treat hunger, malnutrition, cholera outbreaks and more are forced to downsize or close without U.S. funds.

The warning of dire implications comes days after the State Department’s federal watchdog found the Trump administration had not done enough to minimize civilian casualties as the U.S. provides arms, including precision-guided bombs, to the coalition led by Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. aid suspension has been in place since March. The lapse in aid has coincided with the country’s COVID-19 outbreak, which has had a devastating effect on the population already suffering from war, starvation, and preventable disease. Shutting off all aid funding at the same time that the U.S. has pulled its funding from the WHO and international support for U.N. efforts has been drying up is especially harmful and cruel to the tens of millions of people that depend on humanitarian assistance.

Al-Monitor also reported on the aid groups’ appeal:

The US government’s aid cuts in northern Yemen are “increasingly out of step” with realities on the ground and civilians are paying the price, six international relief organizations told John Barsa, acting administrator for the US Agency for International Development (USAID), in a letter obtained by Al-Monitor.

“Time is running out for tens of millions of Yemenis,” wrote the executives at the International Rescue Committee, Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), Oxfam America, CARE, Save the Children USA and Mercy Corps. “Humanitarians have stayed and delivered in Yemen in the midst of complex crises. But our ability to do so now is jeopardized unless the U.S. changes course.”

Houthi interference with aid deliveries has been a real problem, but it is one that is being addressed. It is also senselessly destructive to deprive the population of desperately needed aid to put pressure on the Houthis. It amounts to punishing the innocent for Houthi misconduct, and it compounds the harm done by the aid diversion that it is supposedly meant to stop. It is every bit as cruel and absurd as using sanctions to strangle people for the actions of their government. The U.S. is the only aid donor that has taken this drastic and unwise step:

The aid organizations acknowledge the ongoing risk of aid diversion in northern Yemen, but say there has been a significant improvement. The Houthis, for example, have dropped their demand for a 2% tax on humanitarian activities and have cooperated with independent assessments of needs and monitoring missions.

“The US government is the only country trying to apply pressure through withholding aid,” Begum said. “You’ve got six of the largest aid agencies operating in Yemen saying to the US, your approach isn’t right.”

U.S. policy in Yemen for the last five and a half years has been appalling, but until this year there was at least some effort being made to alleviate the world’s worst humanitarian crisis created by the indefensible war on Yemen. For almost six months, that has no longer been true. The U.S. continues to arm the Saudi coalition and support them as they wage war on the people of Yemen, and now it is withholding crucial aid that these organizations need to be able to prevent more deaths of innocent Yemenis. The halt in aid could not have come at a worse time as the pandemic has been tearing through the population. If the U.S. doesn’t resume the aid as soon as possible, many more Yemenis will needlessly die because of the terrible decisions made in Washington.

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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