A top UN official called for the reversal of the US decision to designate Yemen’s Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization, warning the move will lead to a massive famine.
The UN’s humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock spoke out against the designation in remarks on Thursday. “First, what is the likely humanitarian impact? The answer is a large-scale famine on a scale that we have not seen for nearly 40 years,” he said.
According to UN numbers, around 80 percent of Yemenis rely on aid, and 13.5 million people face acute food insecurity. These dire conditions are a direct result of the US-backed Saudi-led war on Yemen that started in 2015. The coalition regularly bombs civilian infrastructure and is enforcing a blockade on the country.
About 70 percent of Yemen’s population lives in Houthi-controlled areas, where malnutrition is the most severe. Designating the Houthis a terror organization could criminalize the work that aid organizations do since the Houthis are the authority they deal with.
The Trump administration has said it will allow exemptions for Humanitarian goods, but Lowcock says that is not good enough. “Would licenses and exemptions for aid agencies prevent that [famine]? The answer is no,” he said.
Lowcock said the only thing that would prevent famine is a “reversal of the decision” to designate the Houthis as a terror organization.
While the UN never officially declared a famine in the country, Yemenis are starving to death and have been for years, something Lowcock acknowledged. “Already, about 50,000 people are essentially starving to death in what is essentially a small famine. Another 5 million are just one step behind them,” he said.
Yemenis fear the designation could cut off remittances from family members living overseas, something the World Bank estimates one in 10 Yemenis rely on to survive.
The designation is set to take effect on January 19th, President Trump’s last day in office. The UN, NGOs, and members of Congress are calling on Joe Biden to reverse the designation as one of his first acts in office.