Yemen's humanitarian crisisCaught in a civil war rife with ongoing violence costing thousands of lives, Yemen is currently the most impoverished country in the Middle East and is experiencing a severe humanitarian crisis. Yemen’s humanitarian crisis is a matter of urgency as roughly 24 million Yemenis depend on foreign aid for survival.

Houthis Terrorist Designation

On January 10, 2021, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that Yemen’s Houthis group would be designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department. The designation went into effect on January 19, 2021, only a day before the new presidential administration would see Pompeo exit his position. This decision has drawn international concerns and criticisms as it is feared that the label would pose major challenges to U.S.-Yemen relations.

As foreign aid must go through the Houthis in order to be allocated to the people of Yemen, this act would further complicate the distribution of essential aid from the U.S. and exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Meanwhile, it has equally evoked a necessity to put the spotlight back on Yemen’s dire state of relentless and unforgiving civil war.

Conflict and Corruption in Yemen

Since North and South Yemen unified in 1990 to form the present state of Yemen, the country has struggled with internal unity due to the inherent religious and cultural divide among citizens. However, these differences became increasingly visible in 2014, when Yemen experienced a period of unrest throughout its population after Yemen’s president, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, lifted fuel subsidies, threatening an aggravated state of poverty and food insecurity throughout the nation.

Frustrated with the pervasive corruption within the administration, widespread protests would encourage the Houthi rebels to consolidate power and take over Yemen’s Government the same year. In an effort to regain control over the region, Saudi Arabia utilized military intervention to overthrow the Houthis with the aid of foreign powers such as France, the United States and the United Kingdom. However, this conflict only set the stage for the calamity to come.

Since the Houthi takeover and the Saudi-led intervention, the humanitarian crisis in Yemen has seen more than 200,000 fatalities recorded as a result of direct and indirect effects of the country’s civil war.

Signs of Promise

While the designation of the Houthis as a terrorist organization throws a wrench into the already complex relationship dynamic between the United States and Yemen, there are three signs of promise:

  • Following Pompeo’s announcement, the United States exempted organizations such as the Red Cross and the United Nations to continue essential aid to Yemen and allowed for exports of agricultural commodities and medicine.
  • On January 25, 2021, the United States approved a month-long exemption that would allow transactions to take place between the U.S and the Houthis.
  • The new secretary of state, under the Biden Administration, Antony Blinken, has pledged to review the terrorist designation of the Houthis — a reassuring statement for the stability of aid to Yemen’s people.

Despite this setback, the designation has nevertheless raised an opportunity to bring our attention back to Yemen’s tumultuous state. Revitalized efforts of diplomacy may inspire more substantial action in order to address Yemen’s growing humanitarian crisis.

Alessandra Parker
Photo: Flickr

North Korean RelationsOn July 21 in Aspen, Colorado, Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, told a press conference audience that the United States will be blocking all American travel to North Korea to prevent Americans from supporting the North Korean economy or being detained.

Over the past two decades, North Korean relations with western and other Asian nations have progressively worsened and have produced negative effects on the North Korean people. Already known as a nation ravaged by food shortages, where children and other vulnerable groups of people have been malnourished for many years, increased North Korean aggression has begun to produce worsening effects on the quality of life available to North Korean citizens.

This comes in the form of economic and trade sanctions preventing the North Koreans from receiving foreign aid and furthering the economic development needed to sustain the country’s 25 million citizens.

North Korea has long been known to have serious issues providing nutrition for all its citizens. The condition of North Korean farming in 2017, however, hit a particularly difficult point with severe droughts and record-low crop production.

According to The New York Times, North Korea’s stable crop production, which includes crops such as rice, corn, soybeans and potatoes, has been drastically damaged as the country is going through the worst drought it has seen in the past sixteen years. This is making it significantly more difficult for the country to feed its population and “threaten[s] food security for a large [portion of the] population,” according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Under these dire circumstances, increased trade and foreign aid are critical to remedy the problems with producing crops. North Korea, however, is unable to receive foreign aid or increase trade with the U.S. or its allies due to numerous sanctions in place to dissuade nuclear threats and military aggression.

In part because of economic sanctions, North Korea holds one of the highest poverty rates in the world. Going hand-in-hand with the high poverty rate is the level of undernourishment seen among the population.

Since 1990, the rate of malnutrition in North Korea has risen from 21 percent to a staggering 32 percent. From a humanitarian perspective, this rate is astronomically high and must be reduced.

This places the U.S. in an uncomfortable position from a poverty-reduction standpoint. If the U.S. provides aid to North Korea, all funds will likely be diverted from reaching the people. However, if inaction is chosen, millions of people will lack the resources necessary to survive. While it may be a long and difficult process, the first step in solving North Korea’s issues with poverty may be in reopening negotiations.

In exchange for lessened hostility and improved North Korean relations with the west, the United States and its allies could agree to help provide foreign aid to a country in desperate need of it.

Poverty reduction in North Korea is tremendously difficult to gauge due to the government’s desire for secrecy. If a distinct effort is made to try and coordinate with the North Korean government to decrease hostility and improve North Korean relations with the west, poverty reduction measures can certainly be implemented for a country whose people desperately need help.

Garrett Keyes

Photo: Flickr