Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Ahmed, 3 years old, receives treatment for moderate acute malnutrition in a hospital in Hajjah, Yemen. (Photo: WFP/Abeer Etefa)

Will Donald Trump Escalate the Devastating War and Hunger in Yemen?

Medea Benjamin

This week marks the beginning of year three of the Saudi-led military intervention in the civil war in Yemen, an intervention that has resulted in an epic tragedy of destruction and starvation. Tens of thousands of Yemenis marked the occasion by pouring into the streets of the capital, Sanna, to call for an end to the Saudi airstrikes that have been supported by the US military. But instead of pushing to jumpstart stalemated negotiations to end the conflict, the Trump administration seems anxious to get more deeply involved in the war by supporting an attack on the key port of Hodeidah and resuming halted weapons sales.

Greater US support for the Saudis, who intervened in Yemen to try to stop the Iran-friendly Houthis from coming to power, is part of Trump’s “get tough” policy on Iran. But further escalation of the war in Yemen, particularly an offensive to seize Hodeidah from the Houthi rebels, will mean even more death and hunger for the Yemeni people. Jeremy Konyndyk, who was the director of foreign disaster assistance at US AID under Obama, said a serious disruption of the Hodeidah port could well “tip the country into famine.”

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has requested for US support for the Hodeidah attack, a request that will reportedly come before Trump’s national security advisors this week. The Obama administration, which had been helping the Saudi bombing campaign from the beginning with weapons and logistics, did not support this particular attack because they thought it would exacerbate the humanitarian crisis since Hodeideh has been the main port of entry for humanitarian supplies.

On March 23, a bipartisan group of ten senators, including Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), urged Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to launch an urgent diplomatic effort to help avert a pending famine in Yemen and three other nations, and included a specific call to keep the Hodeidah port open to humanitarian aid.

"While the wealthy nations must open their wallets to feed starving Yemenis, the only way to end the humanitarian crisis is to end the conflict. This would mean a ceasefire, a push for negotiations and in the case of the US, an end to weapons sales to the Saudis."

Yemen imports 90 percent of its food, and the war, including a Saudi naval blockade and a previous bombing of cranes at the Hodeidah port where all the large grain silos are located, has made it difficult to import sufficient food and humanitarian supplies. Food shipments into Hodeidah have already fallen precipitously, with only a few ships arriving each week, compared to dozens before the war, and more shipping lines are pulling out due to the growing risks.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says speed is of the essence to prevent a tragedy of massive proportions.  “Words cannot capture the extent of the suffering of the Yemeni people,” said ICRC Middle East director Robert Mardini. “Their resilience has reached a breaking point.” Twenty people are dying every day, many of curable diseases because only 45 percent of the health facilities are functioning.”

A UNICEF report shows over 400,000 Yemeni children suffering from severe acute malnutrition, and a child dying every 10 minutes from malnutrition, diarrhea and respiratory-tract infections.

Jamie McGoldrick, Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen put the tragedy in human terms. “Fisherman can’t fish, farmers can’t farm, civil servants don’t get paid…people having to make life and death decisions: Do you feed your children or do you pay for medical treatment for your child? And that’s a daily call for many families.”

UN and private relief organizations have been mobilizing to respond to the crisis. In February, the UN launched a humanitarian appeal calling for $2.1 billion. As of March, however, only 7 percent of the appeal had been funded and the UN Refugee Agency has received less than half the funds it needs.

While the wealthy nations must open their wallets to feed starving Yemenis, the only way to end the humanitarian crisis is to end the conflict. This would mean a ceasefire, a push for negotiations and in the case of the US, an end to weapons sales to the Saudis.

President Obama supported the Saudis with massive weapons sales during his eight years in office. But just before leaving office in December 2016, when faced with increased pressure from human rights groups and lawmakers after a Saudi strike on a Yemeni funeral killed at least 140 people, President Obama put a halt of the sale of precision-guided munitions to the Saudis.

Trump’s State Department already gave notice to Congress that they have approved a resumption of these sales. If there is no objection from Congress and President Trump signs off on the deal, the deal will go through. Amnesty International urged Trump not to sign off on the sales, saying that new US arms could be used to devastate civilian lives in Yemen and could “implicate your administration in war crimes.”

This is not the time to escalate the war. Unless an urgent effort is made to find a political solution and get massive food aid into the country, almost 7 million people in this war-torn nation will face starvation. Stopping on attack on Hodeidah and making sure the port is secure for food shipments is a critical first step.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

... We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'Utterly Obscene': Just 8 Pfizer and Moderna Investors Became $10 Billion Richer After Omicron Emerged

"Pharma execs and shareholders are making a killing from a crisis they helped to create," said one justice campaigner.

Jon Queally ·


Ilhan Omar Calls Kevin McCarthy 'A Liar and a Coward' for Refusing to Condemn Boebert's Islamophobia

"This is who they are," said the Minnesota Democrat. "And we have to be able to stand up to them. And we have to push them to reckon with the fact their party right now is normalizing anti-Muslim bigotry."

Jon Queally ·


'Congress Must Act': Bernie Sanders Demands End of Filibuster to Codify Abortion Rights

"We must pass legislation that codifies Roe v. Wade as the law of the land in this country. And if there aren't 60 votes to do it, and there are not, we must reform the filibuster to pass it with 50 votes."

Jon Queally ·


Human Rights Defenders Warn Biden Border Policy 'Quickly Transforming Into Trump 2.0'

Like his predecessor, President Joe Biden now being accused of "using racist, xenophobic tropes about immigrants to weaponize Covid-19 against migrants and asylum-seekers."

Jon Queally ·


'Bombshell': Israeli Spyware Used to Hack iPhones of US State Department Officials

Calling the Israel-based spyware maker NSO Group an "in-plain-sight national security threat," one expert warned that "a multi-agency investigation is immediately needed."

Jessica Corbett ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo