While Russia’s war in Ukraine has created “Europe’s largest refugee crisis this century,” in terms of the number of people affected it pales in comparison to the consequences of the ongoing civil war in Yemen, which has created what has been called the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

Yemen Starvation

A severely malnourished boy rests on a hospital bed at the Aslam Health Center in Hajjah, Yemen, in 2018. Because of an ongoing blockade by the U.S.-backed Saudi-led coalition, more than 3 million children under 5 in Yemen are suffering from acute malnutrition, according to the World Food Program. Hani Mohammed/Associated Press, File

In an area of the world prone to conflict, this iteration of the Yemeni civil war began in 2014, when the Shiite Houthis captured the capital from the Sunni government headed by Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. In March 2015, Hadi fled to the Saudis, who created a coalition to support his government. The sides have been fighting ever since, although in the beginning of April Hadi himself announced that he had transferred his authority to an eight-member Presidential Leadership Council.

Both sides are guilty of major human rights abuses, including the bombing of civilian infrastructure, but the Saudis have used military force to stop most planes from landing and ships from docking in Yemen, saying such measures were necessary to stop the Houthis from smuggling in weapons, including those from Iran. This ongoing blockade has prevented, or at the very least complicated, the importation of fuel, food and medical supplies to the Yemeni people, some 30 million of them.

The U.N. has estimated that by the end of 2021, the war had led to 377,000 deaths, 60 percent of them from indirect causes (poor access to food, clean water and medicine). The World Food Program reports that over 20 million Yemeni people need humanitarian assistance this year, with over 3 million children under 5 suffering from acute malnutrition. The war in Ukraine is expected to make the crisis even worse, as nearly a third of Yemen’s wheat is normally imported from Ukraine.

It’s easy to say that this is not our problem, but since the beginning of Saudi involvement in the Yemeni war, the U.S. has provided the Saudi-led coalition with logistical and intelligence support for targeting their bombs, as well as material assistance for maintaining their jets. In 2019, enough concern existed in Congress about the deleterious effects of the U.S.-supported blockade on the Yemeni population that both houses, including all four members of Maine’s congressional delegation, passed a resolution to end U.S. involvement in the war. However, then-President Donald Trump vetoed SJ Res. 54, and despite Sens. Susan Collins’ and Angus King’s votes to override, the override did not pass.

In February 2021 President Biden announced that the U.S. would end its support for the Saudi coalition’s offensive war in Yemen, but before the end of the year the administration announced it would approve the sale of air-to-air missiles to the Saudis, terming them defensive weapons against Houthi air strikes. Rep. Chellie Pingree signed a letter to President Biden asking for clarification of the administration’s seemingly contradictory Yemen policies, though the eventual response was less than edifying.

Despite President Biden’s 2021 declaration, the U.S. continues to be complicit in Yemeni civilian deaths by continuing its support for the Saudi-led coalition. Absent action by the executive branch, the only way to end that complicity is for Congress to again pass a resolution that would end all U.S. support for this war.

Prohibiting U.S. involvement in the coalition’s aerial operations will not, by itself, end the war. It will, however, reduce the ability of the Saudi-led coalition to block humanitarian assistance, and could encourage the Saudis to enter into negotiation with the Houthis. An unexpected two-month truce in the war was recently declared for Ramadan. Some posit that the anticipated congressional resolution played a role in that decision but wonder if the truce will lead to longer term negotiations.

When this resolution makes it to the floor of Congress, Maine’s delegation should again support it. As Sen. King said in 2019, “This is a humanitarian disaster and the United States should no longer be complicit. That’s why I’ve voted to end our limited support for the Saudi-led coalition.”


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