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UN aid chief to urge US to reverse 'Houthis terrorism' blacklist plan

Mark Lowcock will warn of dire humanitarian consequences if the US continues [Getty]

Date of publication: 14 January, 2021

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Mark Lowcock will speak to the UN Security Council and warn of the devastating consequences that would follow, if the US labels the Houthi movement as a terrorist organisation.

The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock will address the UN Security Council on Thursday and warn of the dire consequences that will unfold should the US continue with its plans to designate Yemen's Houthi movement a "foreign terrorist organisation".

The UN aid chief is set to warn that such a move would push Yemen into a "famine on a scale that we have not seen for nearly 40 years".

Yemenis have suffered the consequences of a devastating civil war that erupted in 2014 and intensified in 2015 with the intervention of a Saudi-led coalition, leading to famine-like conditions in parts of the country.

In one of the last rolls of the dice by the Trump administration, Washington said it will designate the Iran-backed Houthi rebels as a terrorist organisation.

The move would make it a crime for any US business to do business with the group or supply aid and resources, something that relief agencies have warned will have catostrophic consequences for the country.

Lowcock will warn the Security Council that exemptions for aid agencies are not enough to prevent humanitarian disaster in Yemen and that the country must be able to receive imports of basic supplies, including food and medicine. 

"Yemen imports 90 percent of its food. Nearly all that food is brought in through commercial channels. Aid agencies give people vouchers or cash to buy commercially imported food in the market," according to Lowcock's prepared statement, which was seen by Reuters.

"The data show that 16 million people will go hungry this year. Already, about 50,000 people are essentially starving to death in what is essentially a small famine. Another 5 million are just one step behind them," Lowcock will say.

According to previous estimates, 80 percent of Yemen's population need aid to survive.

It is feared that designating the Houthis as a terrorist organisation would severely dissuade import companies from doing business in Yemen.

"They say the risks are too high. They fear being accidentally or otherwise caught up in US regulatory action," Lowcock will say.

According to Lowcock, families in Yemen are fearing the worst.

"Already, Yemenis are crowding into to markets and shops to stockpile whatever they can afford. Families are terrified that no more food or other supplies will make it into the country."

The designation is set to come into effect on 19 January, the last day of the Trump presidency. But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has insisted that licences would be provided to aid agencies by the US Treasury.

He claims that this would allow them to continue the delivery of critical commodities such as food and medicine.

Read more: Biden and the Saudi quagmire in Yemen

But with the country's heavy reliance on imported goods, such licenses do not have the power to avert disaster, according to Lowcock.

"Aid agencies have no confirmed details on how they will work or what activities will be eligible. The details apparently won't be ready until the day that the designation takes force," he wrote.

"It is not humanitarian agencies who are importing most of the food," he will say.

The Houthi movement responded to the planned US move with a tweet from political commander Mohamed Ali Al-Houthi, saying, "The Yemeni people don't care about any designation from Trump's administration, as it is a partner in killing Yemenis and starving them."

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