This photo shows Amal who is looking at her destroyed home in Sana’a after it was hit by an airstrike in April 2015. A girl looks at her destroyed home in Sana’a, Yemen. © UNICEF/UN018341/Jahaf

“I can’t imagine this will not be one of the most devastating humanitarian catastrophes we’ve seen in decades.”

Amidst the political upheaval in Saudi Arabia this week, a decision by the newly empowered Saudi Crown price to impose a total blockade of Yemen’s sea, air and land routes is having an immediate and devastating humanitarian impact.

Nearly 1 million people will be sickened with cholera before the end of the year, yet the International Committee for the Red Cross/Red Crescent reported that a shipment of chlorine tablets to treat cholera was prevented from crossing from Saudi Arabia to Yemen on Tuesday.  7 million Yemenis face famine-like conditions and 20 million are dependent on food aid, yet the port through which Yemen receives about 80% of all food consumed in the country is blockaded. Nearly 2 million people in the landlocked capitol city of Sana’a are entirely dependent on one airport for humanitarian relief and medicines, yet all UN humanitarian air service flights have been grounded.

Yemen was already the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. It is poised to become much, much worse. 

Nearly the entire population of Yemen is affected by an ongoing conflict that is pitting an Iran-backed rebel group against the Saudi-backed government. The rebel group controls much of northern part of the country, including the capitol Sana’a and the largest port, Hodeidah.

Saudi Arabia (with American backing) controls all sea and air lanes around the country. This weekend, during the political upheaval in the country, the Saudis used the pretext of a missile launched toward Riyadh from Yemeni territory to impose the total blockade.  Saudi Arabia said the blockade would be temporary, but its impact is already being felt.

Food and fuel prices are skyrocketing.


Yesterday, the Secretary General’s spokesperson said the blockade  “has had a tremendously negative impact on a situation that is already catastrophic.”

It was catastrophic, in part, because the Saudi’s had imposed a temporary blockade of the country for the past two years, which has interfered with humanitarian and relief operations across the country. This new measure, a total blockade, could trigger something something worse.

World Food Program chief David Beasley, told AP that if access to Yemen remained shut down, “I can’t imagine this will not be one of the most devastating humanitarian catastrophes we’ve seen in decades.”

Last week, before the total blockade, Sweden requested a Security Council meeting on the humanitarian situation in Yemen. That meeting is happening today. It remains to be seen whether or not the United States, which is Saudi Arabia’s key ally on the Security Council, will use the opportunity to press the government to lift the blockade.