The US has rejected pleas from the UN to reverse its decision to designate Yemen's Houthis as a terrorist group. The decision has been met with widescale condemnation and accusations of "political vandalism".
Senior UN officials have warned of a massive famine in Yemen, which is already regarded as a humanitarian catastrophe. Dismissing such concerns, the Trump administration said, "We believe that this step [designation] is the right move forward to send the right signal if we want the political process to move forward."
Mark Lowcock, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, pointed out that, "The most urgent priority in Yemen right now is to prevent a massive famine."
As many as 16 million Yemenis are poised to go hungry this year. Around 50,000 already have insufficient food and water.
Referring to the US designation and the potential harm it might cause, Lowcock added that every decision the world makes right now must take this into account. He said that the designation of the Houthis will undermine efforts to prevent a famine and summarised the reasons why humanitarian agencies oppose such a development, including the fact that Yemen imports 90 per cent of its food, nearly all of it through commercial channels that aid agencies cannot replace.
David Beasley, Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme, said that even without the designation, famine looms, with 11 million people already in crisis and 5 million at an emergency level. To stave off famine, at least $1.9 billion is needed for 2021. Only $386 million in confirmed donations has been received and, for the next six months alone, $860 million is required.
"We are struggling now without the designation," Beasley is reported saying. "With the designation it's going to be catastrophic. It literally is going to be a death sentence to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of innocent people in Yemen."
Beasley believes that the Gulf Arab states — singling out Saudi Arabia — "need to pick up the humanitarian financial tab for this problem." If they don't, he warned, donors will take money from other countries where it's also desperately needed. "Which means we're going to have famine in many, many other countries."
David Miliband, president and chief executive of the International Rescue Committee, was one of many to strenuously oppose the terror designation. He called it "pure diplomatic vandalism." The former British foreign secretary believes that, "This policy, in the name of tying up the Houthis, will actually tie up the aid community and international diplomacy."