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Houthi rebels blocked UN aid to thousands of Yemenis

A truck carrying expired food aid from the WFP in Sanaa [Getty]

Date of publication: 25 June, 2019

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The UN’s World Food Programme says that Yemen’s Houthi rebels turned back an aid shipment meant to feed 100,000 families. The WFP have previously accused the Houthis of stealing aid.
Yemen's Houthi rebels last month turned back a World Food Programme (WFP) shipment meant to feed some 100,000 families in the war-torn nation, which has been pushed to the brink of starvation, a spokesperson for the aid agency said Tuesday.

The rejection of the shipment came as the WFP was in tense talks with the Iranian-backed Houthis, who had blocked the agency's attempt to register millions of Yemenis in need of aid by using biometrics as a means of preventing food aid theft.

The WFP has mainly blamed the Houthis, also known as Ansar Allah, for stealing the food aid. The rejected shipment will deprive thousands of families of badly needed aid.

The conflict in Yemen began with the 2014 takeover of the capital, Sanaa, by the Iranian-backed Houthis who drove out the internationally recognized government of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

Months later, in March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition launched an air campaign to prevent the Houthis from overrunning the country's south.

In the relentless campaign, Saudi-led airstrikes have hit schools, hospitals and wedding parties and killed thousands of Yemeni civilians.

The Houthis have used drones and missiles to attack Saudi Arabia and have targeted vessels in the Red Sea.

A catastrophic humanitarian disaster unfolded and aid agencies rushed to help, risking getting caught in the middle between the warring parties.

Last week, the WFP partially suspended aid as talks with the Houthis went nowhere. The agency accused the rebels of continuing to loot aid and using millions of dollars of international donations for their war economy.

The suspension affects 850,000 people in Sanaa, where the WFP says the bulk of the looting takes place. WFP said earlier this year that it aims to feed around 12 million Yemenis in 2019, at a cost of $175 million a month.

The rebels, who control northern Yemen, responded with a fierce media campaign against the WFP, accusing it of sending rotten food.

On Sunday, the Houthi-run news agency SABA quoted Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, a high rebel official, as accusing the WFP of trying to cover up spoiled food and expired aid. Al-Houthi had been advocating for WFP cash donations in place of what he said was "corrupted food".

The WFP says some of the food held for a long time in areas controlled by the rebels had indeed gone bad.

The Houthis have intentionally broadcast images of food from the WFP that they've held on for too long and that had gone bad, as a way to discredit the aid agency among starving Yemenis, an aid official said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Last month, the rebels ordered over 8,000 tonnes of flour sent by the WFP out of the Red Sea port of Hodeida, claiming it was contaminated with dead insects. A subsequent check on the cargo, now docked in Oman, showed it was clean, an WFP spokesperson added.

"WFP can't tolerate groundless rejection of essential humanitarian cargo when millions in Yemen face malnutrition and starvation," he said.

Days before the aid suspension, David Beasley, WFP executive director, told the U.N. Security Council that the agency in late 2018 uncovered "serious evidence that food was being diverted and going to the wrong people" in Sanaa and other Houthi-controlled areas.

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