Yemen would suffer “the largest famine the world has seen for many decades, with millions of victims” if Saudi Arabia did not immediately allow food and medicine to be offloaded at all of Yemen’s seaports, and permit the resumption of air services to the cities of Sana and Aden, the United Nations official Mark Lowcock warned Security Council diplomats last week.
Saudi Arabia tightened its blockade against Yemen on Nov. 5 after Iran-backed Houthi rebels threatened Riyadh with a ballistic missile. The Saudis have since partly lifted the blockade, but only of ports controlled by its allies. That is not nearly enough to get urgently needed food to nearly seven million Yemenis facing famine.
Misery has been Yemen’s lot after more than three years of unrelenting war. At least 10,000 people have been killed, many by Saudi-coalition bombings carried out with military assistance by the United States. A raging cholera epidemic has sickened some 900,000 people, and 17 million Yemenis are now completely dependent on humanitarian aid for survival.
Ships and cargo planes ferrying food, medicine and vital fuel to Yemen’s war-ravaged civilians are inspected by the United Nations to make sure they are not transporting arms.
Impeding humanitarian assistance and using famine as a weapon are war crimes, and Saudi Arabia must realize that the world is finally taking notice.
On Monday, the United States Congress passed a resolution denouncing the targeting of Yemeni civilians and calling for all parties involved to “increase efforts to adopt all necessary and appropriate measures to prevent civilian casualties and to increase humanitarian access.”
The vote should serve as a warning to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is intent on expanding Saudi Arabia’s regional influence, that while he may have the unreserved blessing of President Trump, American lawmakers are less tolerant of flagrant violations of international law and of basic humanity.
The only way to end the Yemeni people’s hell is for Congress and the United Nations to keep pressing all parties for a political solution.