Houthi actions are hurting the people of the region and hopes for Red Sea prosperity

The Yemeni militants have been unable to cause the large-scale global disruption they desire, but that doesn't mean they are harmless

Houthi attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea have disrupted one of the world's busiest shipping lanes. EPA
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Over the past three months, Houthi militants have recklessly bombarded civilian cargo ships in the Red Sea, taking the lives of civilian mariners and threatening global commerce and the delivery of much needed humanitarian assistance in the region. In response, a coalition of countries, including the US and its partners, has acted decisively to launch Operation Prosperity Guardian to protect global shipping lanes from disruption.

While so far the Houthis have been unable to cause the level of large-scale global economic disruption they desire, the disruption of shipping lanes is having a far more significant impact on people and countries reliant on Red Sea shipping.

For example, these attacks are causing delays in the delivery of urgently needed food – including in Yemen. A country teetering on the brink of famine, Yemen relies on imports for over 90 per cent of its food needs. Yet, the Houthis attacked the MV Sea Champion, a vessel that was bringing food supplies to the Yemeni people.

Similarly, in Sudan it is becoming more expensive and harder to get much needed humanitarian assistance to the Sudanese people. The country director for the International Rescue Committee described how “shipments that took one or two weeks, maximum, now take months to reach us”. There are also reports that some shipping costs have grown to eight times higher than before, as companies have been forced to shift from shipping by sea to more expensive and limited air transport. In a country where poverty is widespread and hunger is endemic, this means lives were likely lost.

These attacks are causing delays in the delivery of urgently needed food

The Houthis’ attacks have upended regional economies as transits through the Suez Canal have plummeted by 40 per cent. This is hurting countries in the region that are working hard to secure better futures for their people. For Egypt, revenues for the Suez Canal Authority are down by nearly 50 per cent, amounting to a loss of over $500 million in critical foreign exchange revenues and making it difficult for the Egyptian people to import goods and for businesses to meet their financial obligations. For Jordan, traffic through the port of Aqaba – the sole port for the country – is down about 25 per cent. These lost revenues mean that Jordanians and Egyptians are less able to import the medicine, food, and goods needed to sustain livelihoods and power their economies.

The Houthis’ actions are not only hurting people in the region today, they are also deterring investment needed to make the Red Sea region a thriving economic hub in the future. For example, in Saudi Arabia, the port of Jeddah is experiencing significant challenges as a result of disruptions to maritime traffic. This comes at a time when there is every reason for port traffic in the region should be growing. Now, instead, businesses are being forced to divert to slower land transport today, while uncertainty looms over the long-term.

The last thing the region needs is this additional economic challenge. This is just one reason we are calling on the Houthis to stop their reckless attacks in the Red Sea. Working closely with our allies and partners around the world and in the region, we will continue to take steps – including degrading the Houthis' financial networks and disrupting their ability to carry out attacks – to hold them accountable.

Published: March 18, 2024, 7:14 AM