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Op-Ed: WHO announces withdrawal from some Houthi-controlled Yemen areas

The order and its rationale

The announcement claimed that there were “”credible threats and perceived risks” in the areas. The move is said to be designed to pressure the Houthis to be more transparent about the number of cases in the area it controls information needed by WHO to determine its actions.

Some aspects of the report appear somewhat contradictory saying at the same time that staff are being withdrawn from areas but at the same time that the operation is not suspended: “The WHO order was issued because of “credible threats and perceived risks which could have an impact on staff security”, the agency said, adding operations were not suspended.”

Another part of the announcement implies that in certain areas WHO operation are suspended: “A WHO directive issued late on Saturday notified staff in Sanaa, the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, the northern province of Saada, and the central province of Ibb that “all movements, meetings or any other activity” for staff in those areas were paused until further notice.” These are areas controlled by the Houthis. No explanation is given of the seeming contradictory aspects of the announcement. In any case it seems clear that many WHO operations are suspended in Houthi areas for now.

Main threats are from Saudi-led air attacks

For years now a Saudi-led coalition has been attempting to restore the previous Hadi government but so far has been unable to dislodge the Houthis from most of the north. The UAE is part of the coalition fighting the Houthis but they have also allied themselves with the Southern Transitional Council (STC) which now has control of much of the south which they now announce they rule as reported on the appended video. This creates a huge problem for the Saudis as Hadi wants a unified Yemen and has reacted against an earlier peace deal that would have seen the STC share government posts within a Hadi government.

The main threat to WHO in Houthi controlled areas is bombing or artillery fire from Saudi-controlled areas. WHO did not always get along with Houthi officials but they did not have that many problems except that Saudis hit a hospital occasionally.

Withholding aid will exacerbate humanitarian situation

The WHO actions will exacerbate the situation of people in the Houthi-held areas. The Saudi strategy seems to be to keep those in Houthi-controlled areas desperate for food and medication. The Saudis are using a humanitarian as a weapon to help defeat the Houthis.

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