WASHINGTON, D.C. — The ongoing civil war in Yemen is devastating one of the Arab world’s poorest countries. The conflict between the Houthi rebels and the Saudi-led coalition backing President Hadi has left 70 percent of the population in need of humanitarian aid. The fighting and a blockade imposed by the coalition has badly affected supplies of basic goods and devastated the economy. According to the U.N. secretary-general António Guterres, 17 million Yemenis are food insecure, with children at most risk of succumbing to malnutrition as a result of the famine in Yemen.
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) recently wrote an op-ed piece in the Washington Post highlighting how the recently announced multibillion-dollar arms deal between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia will likely exacerbate the current crisis in Yemen. Pocan points out that the Saudi government is currently using U.S.-made planes to enforce the blockade of food and aid to Yemen, arguing that the U.S. is essentially complicit in creating the food insecurity situation in the country. He cites Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations: “The Saudis are deliberately trying to create a famine inside Yemen in order to essentially starve the Yemenis to the negotiating table.”
The U.N. is calling the impending famine in Yemen the “world’s largest hunger crisis.” U.N. agencies and other humanitarian organizations have been able to provide life-saving support to nearly six million Yemenis this year. However, lack of resources is preventing humanitarian organizations reaching all who need help. According to Guterres, “only a cessation of hostilities and a political settlement can bring about a permanent end to the conflict and the suffering of the Yemeni people.”
In April, Pocan was one of five organizers of a bipartisan letter that was sent to President Trump imploring him to provide a legal rationale for any U.S. involvement in hostilities and to seek congressional approval before escalating military action. Pocan claims that proposed Trump administration plans to participate directly in an attack on Yemen’s major port “could push the country into full-blown famine.”
In his op-ed, Pocan argues that Trump has major leverage in negotiations with the Saudis over the multibillion-dollar deal. In exchange for U.S.-made planes, ships and precision-guided munitions, Trump could demand that the Saudis cease the blockade, stop the bombing and enter into settlement negotiations. Pocan promises that if Trump’s deal ignores the impending famine in Yemen and the suffering of millions, congress will act decisively to block the shipment and force a debate on the issue.
Following through on his promise, on May 25, Pocan and Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) introduced a resolution aiming to prevent at least a portion of President Trump’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia. The resolution attempts to block the sale of $500 million worth of precision-guided munitions and offensive weapons to the country. Accompanying legislation was also introduced in the Senate by Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Al Franken (D-MN).
Every ten minutes, a child under the age of five dies from preventable causes in Yemen. Many of the children who do survive will be affected by stunting and poor health for the rest of their lives as a result of severe malnutrition. Echoing the sentiment of the U.N. Secretary General, Rep. Pocan recognizes the need for the fighting to the end in order to prevent an unprecedented famine in Yemen and sees the Saudi arms deal as a step in the wrong direction.
– Michael Farquharson