Ripped apart by war and ignored by the international community, the nation of Yemen is facing what could be the world’s worst famine in many decades, one that was caused at least in part by U.S. actions.
A week after the United Nations (U.N.) warned that Yemen is in dire need of immediate assistance to stave off the crisis, one U.S. lawmaker raised the issue on the Senate floor. On Tuesday, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) railed against global inaction and took the United States to task for its role in allowing the tragedy.
“There is a humanitarian catastrophe inside this country…of absolutely epic proportion. This humanitarian catastrophe, this famine….is caused in part by the actions of the United States of America,” Murphy said.
Murphy’s comments referenced long-standing U.S. support for Saudi Arabia, which borders Yemen. The poorest country in the Middle East, Yemen has been embroiled in civil war since 2015, with factions loyal to President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi warring against the Houthis, a religious-political movement. Saudi-led coalition intervention — which includes a deadly air campaign and devastating blockade — has only worsened the conflict. More than 10,000 people have died in the ensuing chaos and millions more have been displaced.
A deadly cholera epidemic is now underway, with more than 900,000 cases suspected since last spring alone. At least 2,000 people have died from the disease, many of them children — something officials like Murphy argue is the fault of the United States.
“That bombing campaign that targeted the electricity infrastructure in Yemen could only happen with U.S. support,” he said. “It is the United States that provides the targeting assistance for the Saudi planes.”
Saudi bombs have also destroyed Yemen’s water, sanitation, and medical systems, leaving the country’s weary residents without access to crucial resources. Now, with famine rapidly closing in around them, 7 million people are at risk.
When an entire country becomes a prison.
— ICRC (@ICRC) November 13, 2017
The Saudi blockade is of particular concern, as the U.N. noted last Wednesday. Aid organizations are unable to land planes or dock in ports with badly-needed supplies, which could exacerbate the coming famine, U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock argued.
“It will not be like the famine that we saw in South Sudan earlier in the year, where tens of thousands of people were affected. It will not be like the famine which cost 250,000 people their lives in Somalia in 2011,” said Lowcock. “It will be the largest famine the world has seen for many decades, with millions of victims.”
The United States has played a significant role in the pending crisis. Like the Obama administration before it, the Trump administration has strengthened its ties with Saudi Arabia, with President Trump finalizing a $110 billion arms deal with the kingdom earlier this year. Those weapons are being put to use already in Yemen: according to Amnesty International, a bomb that killed 16 civilians in August originated in the United States.
“There simply is no explanation the [United States] or other countries such as the [United Kingdom] and France can give to justify the continued flow of weapons to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition for use in the conflict in Yemen,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East research director. “It has time and time again committed serious violations of international law, including war crimes, over the past 30 months, with devastating consequences for the civilian population.”
But U.S. support is unlikely to end. In March, Ahmed al-Asiri, a top Saudi military general, told reporters that Riyadh had secured a commitment from the White House to deepen ties and increase intelligence sharing — part of a larger effort to rout regional rival Iran.
Trump’s friendly relationship with Saudi Arabia was on full display last week after a shocking royal purge of various officials stunned the region but failed to attract alarm from the White House.
“I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they are doing,” Trump tweeted. “Some of those they are harshly treating have been ‘milking’ their country for years!”
Meanwhile, aid groups are sounding the alarm. According to a statement released by multiple humanitarian organizations last week, including the U.N., Yemen’s supply of vaccines is set to run out in a month. Famine, as previously noted, is also imminent.
The situation is so dire that even the Republican-controlled House of Representatives in the United States has taken notice. On Monday, a resolution condemning U.S. assistance for Saudi-led coalition efforts in Yemen passed by a 366-30 vote margin. The resolution, however, is non-binding.