Aid chief: US calls Yemen rebel terrorists threat of famine

UNITED NATIONS (PA) – The UN humanitarian chief urges the United States to reverse its decision to declare Yemen’s Houthi rebels a terrorist group, warning that this designation will likely result in “large-scale famine on a scale that we have not seen. for almost 40 years.

Mark Lowcock planned to make the appeal in a speech to the UN Security Council on Thursday, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday evening that the Iranian-backed Houthis were a “foreign terrorist organization” and said the designation would take effect on January 19, President Donald Trump’s last full day before Joe Biden was not appointed president.

Lowcock said data shows that 16 million of Yemen’s 30 million people will go hungry this year.

“Already around 50,000 people are starving in what is essentially a small famine,” he said. “5 million more is just a step behind them.”

Lowcock said every decision made now must take this into account.

Noting that the terrorist designation has prevented companies from doing business with Yemenis, Lowcock warned that the famine will not be prevented by the licenses the United States has announced so that humanitarian aid and imports can continue to reach Yemen. .

“What would stop it?” A reversal of the decision, ”said Lowcock.

He said Yemen imports 90 percent of its food, almost all of which is purchased through commercial channels, so aid shipments cannot be enough to stave off hunger.

“Aid agencies give people vouchers or money to buy commercially imported food in the market. Aid agencies cannot – they simply cannot – replace the commercial import system, ”he said.

Six years of war between a US-backed Arab coalition and Houthi rebels have been catastrophic for Yemen, killing more than 112,000 people and destroying infrastructure from roads and hospitals to water and electricity networks. It started with the Houthi takeover of the north in 2014, which sparked a destructive Saudi-led coalition air campaign aimed at restoring the internationally recognized government.

Lowcock, the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said the UN spoke with commercial traders when the United States first raised the possibility of naming the Houthis as terrorists, and they said that ‘they weren’t sure they could continue to import food.

After the US announcement, Lowcock said, the UN has turned to traders and “the Yemeni companies that bring most of the food use words like ‘disaster’, ‘havoc’ and ‘unimaginable’ when they describe this to us. that they fear. come.”

He said global suppliers, bankers, shippers and insurers of Yemeni companies are “very risk-averse” and some are now calling their Yemeni partners to tell them “that they are now planning to leave Yemen entirely” .

“They say the risks are too high,” Lowcock said. “They fear being accidentally or otherwise caught in a US regulatory action that would bankrupt them or go to jail.”

He said some hope they can continue, but if they can, “their best guess is that costs could go up by 400 percent,” making it too expensive for many importers to do business and too expensive for them. Yemenis to buy food.

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