Yemen food aid for millions under threat because of Houthi looting

The WFP has threatened to pull deliveries in areas where rebels are diverting supplies

Yemenis displaced from the port city of Hodeidah receive humanitarian aid donated by the World Food Programme (WFP) in the northern province of Hajjah on September 25, 2018. The three-year conflict between Yemen's Saudi-backed government and Huthi rebels linked to Iran has pushed the already impoverished country to the brink of famine, leaving many unable to afford food and water. / AFP / ESSA AHMED
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Vital food deliveries for around three million people in Yemen are at risk of suspension because of the looting of aid by Iran-backed Houthi rebels, threatening to deepen the country’s humanitarian crisis.

The World Food Program has issued an ultimatum to the rebels who have overran large parts of Yemen, a takeover that sparked the three-year civil war that has driven the country into what the United Nations says is one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.

The WFP’s director David Beasley has written a letter to Houthi leader Abdel Malek Al Houthi threatening to cut aid deliveries unless they proved that they had acted to allow all of the aid to those in need.

He said that only 40 per cent of aid was reaching those who were eligible to benefit from the deliveries in Sanaa, Yemen’s capital. Just a third were receiving aid in the northern Houthi stronghold of Saada.

“If you don’t act within 10 days, the WFP will have no choice but to suspend the assistance... that goes to nearly three million people,” he wrote in the letter. “This criminal behavior must stop immediately.”

The strongly-worded threat highlighted the importance the body was giving to ending corruption that was threatening to worsen the threat of famine in the country.

The WFP said it obtained photographic evidence showing rebels seizing food and manipulating lists of aid recipients.

The UN agency helps about 8 million hungry people in Yemen and has been working to increase its scope to reach a total of 12 million. It wants an overhaul of the relief system, including biometric registration, but says the rebels resist such measures.

Yemeni Information Minister Muammar Al Iryani praised WFP for publicly calling out the Houthis over their violations. He said the body was committed to ensuring that crucial food aid reached those who needed it most.


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In a statement given to Saba news agency, Mr Al Iryani said: “The WFP report indicates that the Houthi militia is deliberately starving the population in the areas under its control to increase their suffering, which gives it an opportunity to exploit this suffering through international forums to achieve political and military objectives.

“The Houthi militia deliberately deprives millions of Yemenis of salaries, livelihoods and aid from donor countries, increasing their suffering, and pushing many of them to participate in the war, after opening the door of recruitment and joining the fronts as a single option for those who lost their sources of income.”

He said that the Houthis were funnelling aid to fighters on the frontlines of the civil war or using it to spread their ideology, suggesting that they were not committed to ending the conflict.

He called on international organisations to move their local offices to the southern city of Aden to ensure that there would be transparency for their operations.

The Houthis lashed out at the WFP claims, saying that the body’s accusations were “politicised”.

Mohammed Al Houthi, head of the Supreme Revolutionary Council, said the agency “did not communicate officially” with the rebels about the theft. He threatened to retaliate against the body and said it did not provide enough food for the Yemeni people.

He accused international organisations in Yemen of being political, singling out staff in the office of the UN envoy to Yemen.

Mr Al Houthi threatened to prosecute the food agency for providing poor-quality food that was rejected by the Houthi government.

In a bid to help deliveries reach those in need, a UN team led by a Dutch officer has been monitoring a cease-fire in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah since late December after peace talks in Sweden, which ended months of fierce fighting between the two sides for control of the city. Some 70 per cent of Yemen's imports come through the city.