The UN humanitarian head is urging the US to reverse its decision to declare Yemen’s Houthi rebels a terrorist group, saying that the designation would likely lead to “a large-scale famine on a scale that we have not seen for nearly 40 years.”
A copy of the speech that UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock planned to make to the UN Security Council yesterday was obtained by The Associated Press.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo late on Sunday said that the Iranian-backed Houthis were a “foreign terrorist organization,” adding that the designation would take effect on Jan. 19, US President Donald Trump’s last full day in office.
Aid organizations and senior US Republican lawmakers have also said that the US designation could have a devastating humanitarian impact on the conflict-wracked nation facing the risk of famine.
Lowcock said data show that 16 million of Yemen’s 30 million people are to go hungry this year.
“Already, about 50,000 people are essentially starving to death in what is essentially a small famine,” he said. “Another 5 million are just one step behind them.”
Every decision made now must take this into account, Lowcock added.
Stressing that the terrorist designation has companies pulling back from dealing with Yemenis, Lowcock said that famine would not be prevented by the licenses that the US has said it would introduce so that some humanitarian aid and imports can continue to reach Yemen.
“What would prevent it? A reversal of the decision,” Lowcock said.
Yemen imports 90 percent of its food, nearly all purchased through commercial channels, so aid shipments cannot be enough to stave off hunger, he said.
“Aid agencies give people vouchers or cash to buy commercially imported food in the market. Aid agencies cannot — they simply cannot — replace the commercial import system,” he said.
Six years of war between a US-backed Arab coalition and the Houthi rebels have been catastrophic for Yemen, killing more than 112,000 people and wrecking infrastructure from roads and clinics to water and power grids.
Agencies depend on the Houthis to deliver aid, and they pay salaries to Houthis to do so.
The designation is part of a broader effort by US President Donald Trump’s administration to isolate and cripple Iran.
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