LONDON – At 4 months, all Hussein Al-Holani ever knew was war and need – he weighed just 4 1/2 pounds, less than a third of the average American baby at that age.
“Hussein has been malnourished since he was born,” Ali Hussein al-Holani, the boy’s father, told ABC News. “They tell me to take him to the malnutrition clinic in [Yemen’s capital of] Sana, but I have no way to take him there. “
Ali Hussein is unable to work and is forced to feed his family – his son, daughter, wife and four brothers – relying on food from aid agencies. They live in a small hut at the end of Al Dahi, a sprawling refugee camp for internally displaced people in the northern province of Hajja. He can̵
The Al-Holani family’s history is not unique: about 2 million children need treatment for severe malnutrition, with at least 360,000 at risk of dying, according to the World Food Program. For nearly six years of conflict, aid workers have desperately struggled to deliver supplies and medical care to the current 24.3 million Yemenis – a staggering 80 percent of the population – in need of humanitarian aid.
A new risk of rapid deterioration is now added to the protracted crisis: One of President Donald Trump’s final acts – designating the Hutar battle group Ansar Allah as a “foreign terrorist organization” – could prevent aid agencies from working in much of the country. the country is also, in the words of a US senator, a “death sentence for millions.”
The situation in Yemen has already been classified by the World Health Organization as “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world”. The origins of the conflict are complex, stemming from the instability of the Arab Spring, but the war has been raging since 2015, with both sides suspected of committing war crimes. In particular, the Saudis have received international criticism, with the United States and the United Kingdom continuing to export weapons to the kingdom, despite allegations that the weapons have been used repeatedly to target hospitals and civilian sites.
Clashes between the Iranian-backed Houthi militia and the Saudi-backed militia have properly sunk. The Houthi militia currently controls large parts of the country, while the Saudi-backed government is based in Aden and recognized by the international community.
In the latest violent incident, 25 people were killed and 110 wounded in a rocket attack at an airport in Aden, a southern city that the internationally recognized Yemeni government blamed on the Hutus, a reminder that the two sides look far from a diplomatic agreement. The Hutus have denied responsibility for the blast, The Guardian reported.
The country is at a turning point. In the first six months of 2021, some 16.2 million people, half of the total population, are expected to face “acute levels of food insecurity”, according to MSP, which needs at least $ 1.9 billion, to provide a minimum level of food aid to prevent hunger. Now the UN group claims that conditions this year are likely to be worse than in 2018, the last time Yemen is experiencing famine-like conditions.
“How will they get food?” David Beasley, the group’s chief executive, asked the UN Security Council last week. “How will they get fuel? How will they get medicine? It will be a catastrophe … we will have a catastrophe in our hands.”
Last month, UNICEF warned that Yemen was “on the verge of collapse” and “is perhaps the most dangerous place on Earth to be a child”.
“One child dies every 10 minutes from a preventable disease,” said CEO Henrietta Faure. “Two million are out of school. And thousands have been killed, maimed or recruited since 2015.”
For Hussein and 12 million other children, everyday life is a “waking nightmare” – with conflicts observed on 49 different fronts, the group said. As of last year, according to the WFP, 1 million pregnant or breastfeeding women needed treatment.
At a malnutrition clinic at Bani Hassan Hospital in Hajjah province, Dr Ali Hadjer told ABC News that the food inventory at the center was “zero” as aid supplies had been cut off in the past few months.
“The war in Yemen has destroyed everything, such as the economy, healthcare and the living situation in Yemen,” he told ABC News. “This aid is very important. If this humanitarian aid stops for the Yemeni people and the Yemeni children, there will be a huge catastrophe.”
COVID-19 makes the situation even more difficult for health workers and humanitarian agencies. As of January 19, there were 2,119 confirmed cases and 615 deaths, but the WHO is preparing for a second wave at a time when only half of the country’s health facilities are fully or partially operational. In the last few years, Yemen has experienced what the WHO has called the worst outbreak of cholera today, as well as additional outbreaks of diphtheria, dengue fever, measles and malaria.
The situation risks getting worse. On January 12, the United States formally designated Ansar Allah for the FTO in response to his alleged “terrorist acts, including cross-border attacks threatening civilians, infrastructure and merchant shipping,” former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement before the appointment, adding that the move aimed to accelerate efforts to achieve a peaceful, sovereign and united Yemen, free from both Iranian intervention and peace with its neighbors. “
But setting the FTO now means that it is illegal for individuals or groups to provide “materials or resources” to Ansar Allah, which means that without formal exceptions, no external agencies can provide assistance to large parts of the country under their control.
Auxiliary organizations stated that the decision could in fact make their work impossible, as supply lines and access are already at constant risk of permanent disruption. In addition, they said, the definition of the FTO will not suppress terrorism.
Amanda Cantanzano, senior director of international program policy and advocacy at the International Rescue Committee, told ABC News that the IRC was “outraged by the decision.”
“We see it as something that will create such barriers that it will be almost impossible to provide effective and efficient assistance to those in need. And it would be a crisis everywhere. But in Yemen, it is a disaster,” she told ABC News.
Kirsten Fontaine Rose, a former NSC senior director for the Gulf, told ABC News that the appointment was considered but not pursued in the early years of the Trump administration due to a number of factors. The UN recommended that the designation would “make impossible” the political settlement in Yemen, but in the end the administration found that Ansar Allah was both “using the premises to act to carry out additional terrorist organizations” and “exploiting this vulnerability in the community for aid, “the members of which would oppose the designation.
“Ansar Allah will make sure this definition boosts aid,” Fontaine Rose told ABC News. “They want to amplify the voices that oppose the designation, so they need to make the impact look as awful as possible.”
But Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy said political sabotage was a more likely motive.
Members of the UN Security Council have warned that there can be no military solution to the conflict. Martin Griffiths, the UN special envoy for Yemen, said setting the FTO could have a “chilling effect” on bringing the parties together for dialogue.
“It is difficult that the language of FTO law is not intended to apply to a quasi-governmental organization,” John Alternham, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told ABC News. “So it’s very broad about how you can’t have anything to do with such people. The Hutus control over half of Yemen’s population. It’s not like dealing with al Qaeda.”
“This does not mean that the Hutus do not do ugly things, this does not mean that the Hutus do not threaten civilians all the time – they do,” he said. “But how do you come to an agreement if you criminalize the usual contact with them?”
Anthony Blinken, Biden’s candidate for secretary of state, said the new administration would “immediately reconsider” the appointment. But this can involve a rather complex legal process and can take some time to sort out, according to Alternam. Murphy told ABC News that this period could be crucial as Yemenis continue to suffer.
“This is a death sentence for millions of Yemenis, because in the next few weeks they will be left without food and starve to death,” Murphy said. “It’s so simple. And the fact that the Trump administration has moved forward with that definition, knowing it’s going to be the consequence, is absolutely devastating. It’s heartbreaking. It’s mind-boggling.”
For people like Hussein and his family, there is no end – and everyday decisions are just getting harder and harder.
“[We have] just one basket of food from the World Food Program, “Hussein’s father said. Or we sell it to treat the boy. Or take it home so we can eat. “
Ahmed Bider and Conor Finegan of ABC News contributed to the report.