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How Biden's change in foreign policy affects the crisis in Yemen

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Nearly four million people in Yemen have been displaced by fighting, and many now live in areas with no water or sanitation services. Oxfam is providing water, latrines, and other assistance to people affected by conflict in Yemen. Pablo Tosco / Oxfam Intermon

President Biden takes first steps to negotiate peace instead of supporting offensive military action in Yemen crisis. Learn how you helped encourage this policy change -- and how you can continue supporting our work in Yemen.

In a major speech at the State Department on February 4, President Biden announced the US would no longer support offensive operations in the war in Yemen, and would aggressively pursue a ceasefire and peace talks. On February 5, the US government announced it would revoke the terrorist designations imposed on the Houthi rebels in Yemen on the final day of the Trump administration.

This is a major change in US policy toward Yemen, a country of 30 million people at the southwestern tip of the Arabian peninsula. Oxfam supporters played an important role in pushing the US government to be more active in seeking an end to a war that has created the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

Since 2015, the US has provided weapons, intelligence, and for a time mid-air refueling to Gulf allies fighting in the Yemen civil war. In some cases, airstrikes in Yemen using US-made weapons killed civilians, including 40 students in a bus in 2018, and destroyed water infrastructure and medical facilities. Yemen’s population of 30 million has suffered through multiple cholera outbreaks, massive displacement, and an economic crisis that has pushed the price of food and other basic commodities higher and higher. Nearly 80 percent of Yemenis need humanitarian assistance, many struggling to survive in near-famine conditions.

“For nearly six years, the United States has fueled conflict in Yemen that has triggered the world’s largest humanitarian crisis and left millions of Yemenis at risk of starvation,” Oxfam America’s President Abby Maxman said in a statement following President Biden’s February 4 speech.

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Oxfam’s supporters have for years urged the US to stop fueling the war in Yemen by ending its role as a broker of weapons and acting instead as a broker of peace. In 2018 and 2019, Oxfam supporters sent more than 25,000 emails to members of Congress and made more than a thousand phone calls. In the days leading up to the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris, more than 6,800 signed a letter urging the president to change course on Yemen policy in the first days of his administration. Oxfam delivered the letter to Biden administration officials the day before inauguration.

“People who raised their voices on behalf of Yemenis were crucial to push our government to change course,” said Oxfam’s Humanitarian Lead Scott Paul in Washington, DC. “In 2019 and 2020 we had bipartisan support to end arms sales to coalition members fighting in Yemen, and constituent voices were essential to keep the pressure on our elected leaders to change our policy. Oxfam supporters made a difference, and we hope we can count on them to continue to advocate for an end to the violence in Yemen.”

Responding to humanitarian needs in the war in Yemen

Since July 2015, Oxfam has helped more than three million people in Yemen. Oxfam provides the most vulnerable people with cash to cover their basic food needs. We also provide cash grants to small businesses and farmers, as well as running cash-for-work projects that allow people to be paid for rehabilitating essential infrastructure such as roads and water systems. We reach around 280,000 individuals each year with these kinds of small grants in both the south and the north of the country.

We have provided clean water and sanitation to more than one million people, including in hard-to-reach areas of the country. Oxfam provides water by trucking, repairing water systems, and delivering filters and jerry cans. Oxfam provided clean water to more than 100,000 people in Hajjah and Taiz governorates and trucked water to more than 5,000 displaced people living in camps in Khamer and Al Qafla in Amran governorate in 2019.

To help people in Yemen survive the COVID-19 pandemic, Oxfam is training community health volunteers to spread the word about coronavirus and the importance of hygiene and hand washing. Oxfam is supporting the healthcare system in Yemen by providing equipment including sanitizer, cleaning materials, gloves and buckets, and mobile services for rural areas equipped with toilets, beds, and oxygen tanks.

The economic crisis in Yemen, a lack of funds, coronavirus, and conflict all make delivering humanitarian assistance in Yemen challenging. Oxfam staff and our partners in Yemen are working hard in difficult conditions to reach the people in greatest need, often in hard-to-reach areas. The price of food and fuel, all imported at high cost, add to the expense and complexity of operating in Yemen.

Oxfam is working earnestly in coalition with groups in the US and internationally to advocate for access to people who need humanitarian assistance in Yemen, and for peace. “International and Yemeni humanitarian organizations are still not saving as many lives as they could because of a lack of funding and unacceptable interference by the parties to the conflict,” says Scott Paul. He points out that Yemen urgently needs peace talks, which must include women at the negotiating table.

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