A Saudi-led blockade of aid and food supplies to Yemen will see the country experience “the largest famine the world has seen for many decades,” according to the United Nations undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs in a Wednesday statement warning of millions of deaths if the embargo is kept in place.
On Monday, Saudi Arabia announced that it would temporarily close all ports in Yemen, the gateways through which some 70 percent of the country’s population receive food, medical aid and other supplies delivered.
The Saudi-led blockade is a result of the Houthis — a predominantly Shia political opposition faction in Yemen who revolted against the country’s government three years ago and who Saudi Arabia claims is a proxy for Iran — launch of a ballistic missile aimed at Saudi Arabia’s capital. The missile was intercepted, but Saudi leaders consider the attack to be an act of war by Iran, which they claim supplied the weapon.
The lives of millions of Yemen civilians are now on the line.
“Food merchants immediately doubled all their prices. Fuel, in one moment, disappeared from the markets and the price of what remains is insanely high,” according to Yemeni civil rights activist Baraa Shaiban, cited by the Los Angeles Times.
“And those who are sick, who need to travel for treatment, they’re the worst hit,” Shaiban added.
According to Mark Lowcock, United Nations undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, a continuation of the blockade will lead to unprecedented damage and loss of life. “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.”
On Wednesday, there were reports that Saudi Arabia would allow limited activity to resume at the southern port of Aden, however, it remains unclear whether boats transporting supplies and food have been able to dock.
The Red Cross announced on Tuesday that the blockade prevented a shipment of chlorine tablets needed to prevent cholera, and that it may not be able to deliver 50,000 vials of insulin.
Saudi Arabia “is killing Yemenis not only with cluster bombs, but with starvation and disease,” according to Nasser Arrabyee, a Sana’a-based journalist, in a phone interview Thursday cited by the Los Angeles Times.
“It’s a matter of life and death for us,” Arrabyee said.
The Saudi monarchy claimed in a letter sent to the UN on Wednesday that Houthis’ “continued resort to violence, refusal to return to legitimacy and abide by the relevant Security Council resolutions, have resulted in the catastrophic humanitarian situation and is obstructing the political solution to the conflict.”
In its letter, the Saudis claimed that Iran was ultimately responsible for the manufacturing of the missile launched by the Houthis. A move many noted would make the US responsible for every death in the Middle East caused by a weapon purchased from the Pentagon.
“Iran’s continued role in smuggling weapons to the Houthis is a clear sign of its complete disregard for international obligations,” according to the Saudi monarchy.
The blockade comes after Saudi officials deposed and, some say kidnapped, Saad Hariri, Lebanon’s prime minister, in an effort to weaken the Iran-backed Hezbollah group, Lebanon’s primary political organization.