Calls are growing for Joe Biden to reverse the Trump administration’s decision to designate Yemen’s Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, aid organizations, and the UN are all warning of the mass starvation the designation will cause.
Antony Blinken, Biden’s pick for secretary of state, said on Tuesday that the incoming administration will review the designation “immediately” to make sure it is “not impeding the provision of humanitarian assistance.”
About 70 percent of Yemen’s population lives in Houthi-controlled territory, which is where malnutrition is the most severe. Since the Houthis are the authorities they deal with, aid groups fear the designation will criminalize their work.
The designation came into effect on Tuesday, and President Trump’s Treasury Department said licenses would be available for certain international organizations like the UN and Red Cross to deliver aid. The administration said exemptions would be made for the export of other goods to Yemen, like agricultural commodities, medicine, and medical devices.
But the exemptions will not stop the suffering of Yemenis who are facing starvation. Yemen imports about 90 percent of its food, and the terror designation is already driving away private entities from doing business in Yemen. The designation discourages shipowners from delivering to Yemen if it risks US sanctions, and banks are discouraged from transferring money to the country.
This is always the case with US sanctions. Washington says there are humanitarian exemptions, but civilians still suffer. Like in Iran, where harsh sanctions from the Trump administration have caused severe medicine shortages, despite supposed exemptions.
Yemen’s civilian population is facing starvation due to the US-backed Saudi-led war on the country that has been raging since 2015. The coalition enforces a blockade on Yemen and regularly bombs civilian infrastructure, including food supplies. Despite the lack of a formal designation of famine from the UN, Yemenis are actively starving to death and have been for years.