New York: The United Nations has called on the administration of US President Joe Biden to scrap its plan for designating Yemen's popular Ansarullah movement as a "terrorist group," warning that the move would worsen a humanitarian catastrophe in the impoverished country.
Earlier this month, the UN's relief coordinator, Martin Griffiths, who previously served as the UN's special envoy to Yemen, pleaded with the White House's top Middle East official, Brett McGurk, to reconsider the designation, Foreign Policy magazine reported on Wednesday.
Griffiths cited the destructive impact that the US plan would have on the import of life-saving supplies into Yemen.
According to officials briefed on the meeting, McGurk claimed that Washington was putting the scheme on hold for now.
Former US president Donald Trump added Anasarullah to the State Department's list of foreign "terrorist" organizations during his final days in office, but his successor, Biden, reversed the decision.
Blacklisting Ansarullah would criminalize dealings with the Yemeni group and make businesses or organizations dealing with them liable to criminal prosecution.
In a recent confidential five-page memo, obtained by Foreign Policy, the UN detailed the potential humanitarian impact of the designation on relief efforts.
It warned that exemptions for the delivery of humanitarian assistance would be insufficient to stave off a massive humanitarian calamity, noting that private importers were responsible for 85 percent of the country's food imports.
"Yemenis need commercial imports to survive. Aid agencies cannot replace commercial imports," the memo read. "If the supply chain dries up, many more Yemenis will go hungry."
"Designation risks scaring off commercial imports and further crippling Yemen's battered economy," it added. "There are already signs that food and other essential imports will fall if a new designation proceeds."
Similarly, aid workers say the designation would have a chilling effect on humanitarian groups and private firms dispersing sorely needed supplies to Yemen's embattled civilian population, the bulk of which is on the brink of famine.
Scott Paul, senior manager for humanitarian policy at Oxfam, warned that companies delivering critical supplies to Yemen such as food and fuel could halt their work for fear of any legal scrutiny as a result of the designation.
"Food and medicine, which are covered by licenses, will not be available at the same level they are now. But the main problem isn't going to be that aid will go away, it will decline. The main problem will be that the economy is going to crater," he said.
Saudi Arabia launched a devastating war on its southern neighbor in March 2015 in collaboration with a number of its allied states and with arms and logistics support from the US and several Western countries.
The aim was to return to power the former Riyadh-backed regime and crush the popular Ansarullah movement which has been running state affairs in the absence of an effective government in Yemen.
The war has stopped well shy of all of its goals, despite killing tens of thousands of Yemenis and turning entire Yemen into the scene of the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
The Yemeni army and its allied fighters from the Popular Committees have in recent months gone from strength to strength against the Saudi-led invaders and left Riyadh and its allies bogged down in Yemen.