US and British airstrikes in Yemen have forced some aid groups to suspend operations in the country, and they are warning against further escalation in the region.
Before Israel unleashed its campaign in Gaza, the UN considered the situation in Yemen to be the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The US-backed Saudi/UAE-led war against the Houthis involved a brutal bombing campaign that targeted civilian infrastructure, including food supplies.
The US-backed coalition also enforced a blockade on Houthi-controlled Yemen, where about 70-80% of Yemenis live. Between 2015-2022, the UN estimates 377,000 were killed in the war. About 60% died due to starvation and disease caused by the siege.
Yemenis have had some relief since April 2022, when the Saudis and the Houthis reached a tentative ceasefire. The truce has held relatively well, and the blockade has been eased, but the majority of Yemenis are still reliant on aid.
“Nearly nine years of war have left more than 21 million people – over two-thirds of the population – in desperate need of food, water, and lifesaving assistance. Millions of Yemenis face widespread displacement, food insecurity and limited access to basic services,” 26 aid groups said in a statement, according to Save the Children.
The statement said that after the US and British airstrikes, “some humanitarian organizations have been forced to suspend operations over safety and security concerns, while others assess their ability to operate.” The US launched a third round of airstrikes in Yemen on Tuesday as the Houthis targeted more ships in the Red Sea.
The US is preparing to take another step that could impede aid deliveries in Yemen. Media outlets reported on Tuesday that the Biden administration is expected to re-designate the Houthis as “specially designated global terrorists,” which could result in more sanctions.
It’s unclear if the US will also re-label the Houthis as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization,” which automatically imposes sanctions and would criminalize delivering aid to areas the Houthis govern. The Trump administration put the FTO designation on the Houthis as one of its last foreign policy moves, which was reversed by President Biden due to warnings from aid groups that it would doom food-deprived Yemenis living in Houthi-controlled areas.
An FTO designation or more sanctions on the Houthis could also kill a peace deal reached between the Saudis and the Houthis. According to The Guardian, the two sides have reached a deal that satisfies all parties. The first phase involves depositing money into accounts for the payment of civil salaries for workers in Houthi-controlled areas and fully opening airports and sea ports that have been under blockade. The FTO designation or other types of sanctions could make implementing the first phase impossible.