Since Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the Trump administration’s intention to designate Yemen’s Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization on Sunday, aid organizations have been warning of the grave consequences the move will have on Yemen’s food-insecure population.
The US-backed Saudi-led war on Yemen has left Yemen’s civilian population almost completely reliant on aid. According to UN numbers, around 80 percent of Yemenis rely on aid, and 13.5 million people face acute food insecurity.
The terror designation will hamper the efforts of international charities that deliver food to Houthi-controlled areas, where 70 percent of Yemen’s population lives and malnutrition is the most widespread.
Aid agencies fear their work in north Yemen will now be criminalized since the Houthis are the authority they have to deal with and make transactions with. US terror designations open up sanctions on any individuals or entities that do business with those Washington brands as terrorists.
Pompeo said exemptions would be made for humanitarian goods. But any additional roadblocks for aid agencies will cause more suffering in Yemen since the situation is so dire. “Even with exemptions, the operation will be compromised,” said Janti Soeripto, the president of Save the Children, according to AP News.
Lawmakers in Congress from both sides of the aisle are pushing back on the designation. According to Foreign Policy, congressional staffers snapped at the Trump administration’s State Department during a phone call on Monday morning.
Both Republican and Democratic staffers were angered by the fact that the Trump administration did not consult with Congress over the designation. “You need to stop f**king lying to Congress,” one staffer said, according to sources speaking to Foreign Policy.
The designation is set to take effect on January 19th, President Trump’s last day in office and one day before Joe Biden’s inauguration. Aid agencies and members of Congress are urging the Biden administration to reverse the move as quickly as possible.
While the UN has not officially declared a famine in Yemen, mass starvation in the country has been ongoing for years. In 2018, Save the Children published a report that said as many as 85,000 children under the age of five died of starvation in Yemen between April 2015 and October 2018.
Since 2015, the US-backed Saudi-led coalition in Yemen has regularly targeted civilian infrastructure, including farms, fishing boats, market places, schools, hospitals, water treatment facilities, and civilian homes. Despite this pattern of indiscriminate bombing, the US continues to arm and support the coalition.
Before the Saudis intervened in Yemen, the Houthis were an intelligence-sharing partner with the US in the fight against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. A report from The Wall Street Journal in January 2015 (the Saudi intervention started in March 2015) explained how the US was cooperating with the Houthis.
The report reads: “The US has formed ties with Houthi rebels who seized control of Yemen’s capital, White House officials and rebel commanders said, in the clearest indication of a shift in the US approach there as it seeks to maintain its fight against a key branch of al Qaeda.”