Houthi diversion of aid, continued truce violations complicate Yemen situation

The position of the WFP reflects its impatience because of systematic looting of relief aid.
Sunday 06/01/2019
Yemeni men carry food aid provided by the World Food Programme in Sana’a. (sAFP)
Swept under the rug. Yemeni men carry food aid provided by the World Food Programme in Sana’a. (AFP)

ADEN - After initially angrily denying accusations of stealing World Food Programme (WFP) aid intended for Yemenis in need, the Iran-allied Houthi rebels said they would investigate the allegations.

A WFP report December 31 said that in areas controlled by the Houthi rebels, including Sana’a, food aid intended for Yemeni civilians was being sold by the militia.

“This conduct amounts to the stealing of food from the mouths of hungry people,” WFP Executive Director David Beasley said in a statement. “At a time when children are dying in Yemen because they haven’t enough food to eat, that is an outrage. This criminal behaviour must stop immediately.”

The United Nations estimates that 20 million Yemenis are food insecure.

The head of the Supreme Revolutionary Council, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, initially said the Houthis had “read the WFP executive director’s statement with great astonishment” and accused the WFP of “shirking its responsibilities” and that the accusations of aid stealing were not “backed with documents or evidence.”

Al-Houthi said rebel officials “have the right to sue the WFP” and that the organisation was sending food that was not fit for consumption, which the Houthi militia refused to receive.

The WFP warned that it had “no option but to cease working with those who have been conspiring to deprive large numbers of vulnerable people of the food on which they depend.”  It added that it had “photographic and other evidence of trucks illicitly removing food from designated food distribution centres.”

Yemeni journalist Ramah al-Jabri said the position of the WFP reflects its impatience because of systematic looting of relief aid. He said the Houthis were diverting aid to its fighters as well as its supporters and families of militia members. Whatever was left was then sent to the local markets for sale, he claimed.

The Houthi statement said diverting aid instead of delivering it to needy civilians would be a “disgraceful and criminal act that the Supreme Political Council categorically rejects.”

The statement said the militia’s Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation would investigate and that it condemned “any tampering with the lifeline of citizens who are living in desperate conditions.”

The ceasefire in Hodeidah continued to officially hold despite accusations from the Arab coalition fighting the Houthis that the militia had repeatedly broken the truce.

Representatives of the internationally recognised Yemeni government of Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the Houthi rebels met in Sweden to reach an agreement on ending the civil war. Negotiations resulted in the ceasefire and goodwill gestures such as prisoner exchanges.

However, a report from Al Arabiya English in Dubai said the coalition accused the militia of breaching the truce 19 times over a 24-hour period.

UN envoys from Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates lodged an official complaint with the UN Security Council charging that the Houthis carried out attacks, including sniper fire and medium-range ballistic missile launches in Hodeidah, a diplomat told Agence France-Presse.

The UN envoys accused the Houthis of placing barricades and digging trenches in Hodeidah, which Agence France-Presse corroborated with video footage.

The United Nations is yet to publicly address the coalition’s allegations. UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths travelled between Sana’a and Riyadh meeting with the Houthis and the internationally recognised government to arrange further peace talks for later this month.