13.5 million people face starvation if US designation of Houthis blocks aid and food delivery

Humanitarian Advocacy, Media Releases, News article written on the 19 Jan 2021

Thirteen and a half million people in Yemen will be pushed towards starvation by the United States designation of Ansar Allah, commonly known as the Houthis, as a terrorist organisation. The designation comes into effect today and will seriously affect vital food imports to the country and humanitarian assistance, Oxfam warned.

Muhsin Siddiquey, Oxfam’s Country Director in Yemen, said: “Around 50,000 Yemenis are already facing starvation. This designation is devastating for them and for the millions more who rely on food aid. The tragic fact is that people will die if food imports are disrupted.

“We desperately need the US to immediately reverse this decision in order to avert catastrophe.  Yemen imports 88% of its food supply but food importers have told us that the designation means they can no longer operate. I’ve also been told by a major grain importer that there is less than one month’s supply in their warehouse.  People need food – if it can’t be brought into the country how can they eat?”

The United States government’s designation of Ansar Allah means that Oxfam has been forced to immediately pause its support to up to 245,000 people due to restrictions on contributions from private donors in the United States. The flow of remittances – a vital source of income for food insecure people across the country – will also be severely impacted.

Oxfam warned that the effects of this decision will not be confined to the areas controlled by Ansar Allah only and will affect the country as a whole. Oxfam is calling on the US government to reverse both group designations of Ansar Allah, the Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) designation and the Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) designation. While all sides of the conflict have committed violations of international law and unacceptable violent attacks against civilians, the designation will not provide justice or accountability to any of their victims. It will only compound the suffering of Yemen’s most vulnerable people.

Mr Siddiquey explained: “Importers have told us they are worried that banks will no longer be able to do business with them. In any case, over 58% of Yemen’s grain is imported through two ports in Houthi controlled territory, Hodeida and Saleef.  Even if ships could divert to government-controlled Aden, the port simply could not cope with the extra cargoes. Food supplies would be drastically reduced and, most importantly, prices would skyrocket.

“It is an ongoing, unforgivable tragedy that people in Yemen are suffering from malnutrition and lack of water in plain sight of the whole world. Yemenis deserve to live in a country without conflict where their children have a future.”

The US government designation is coming at the worst possible time for Yemeni people.  After six years of deadly conflict, aid to Yemen has already been cut by half with only 50 per cent of the US$3.38 billion needed received by the end of December 2020.

For interviews or inquiries, please contact Amanda Banks on 0411 449 653 or at amandab@oxfam.org.au.