US President Joe Biden has announced that he is “ending all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arms sales”, in a move intended to bring to an end the six-year war that has “created a humanitarian and strategic catastrophe”.
Fighting between a Saudi-led Arab coalition backed by the US and UK, and Iranian-backed Houthi rebels has killed more than 100,000 people since March 2015, and displaced 3.6 million, with 80 Percent of the population in need of emergency relief and humanitarian assistance, according to the International Rescue Committee.
Water networks, power plants, airports, bridges, roads, schools and health facilities have all been destroyed in the fighting.
Described by the UN as the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, the crisis in Yemen is exacerbated by rampant disease, such as cholera and acute watery diarrhoea (AWD) resulting from crippling water shortages and limited or no access to basic sanitation facilities.
Already one of the world’s most water-scarce countries prior to the outbreak of war, water shortages have worsened due to attacks on the underdeveloped infrastructure as well as shortages in the fuel necessary to run pumping stations.
Meanwhile, the COVID pandemic has further heightened the urgent need for effective hygiene measures, while at the same time causing a steep drop in humanitarian funding, putting at risk efforts to provide water and sanitation to vulnerable communities.
Following Biden’s announcement, the US State Department confirmed that the US intends to revoke the terrorist designation assigned to Yemen’s Houthis by President Trump just days before he left office. The designation had threatened to hamper the flow of humanitarian aid into Yemen. The Iran-backed Houthi movement (Ansar Allah) unseated the government of president Abdullah Saleh in 2015, prompting the Saudis to intervene.
The Saudi authorities appeared unruffled by the Biden announcement, issuing a statement via the Saudi Press Agency confirming support for a political solution to the Yemen crisis and welcoming the US emphasis on supporting a diplomatic route.
Speaking to US media outlet NBC, Sanam Vakil, deputy director of the Middle East North Africa Programme at Chatham House said that facilitating the end of the war in Yemen is something Saudi Arabia also wants. “They are suing for peace at this point,” Vakil said.