Crime & Justice

WFP slams Houthis' misuse of Yemen food aid

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden


An aid worker carries a sack of flour in Hajjah province on September 25th, 2018, as Yemenis displaced from al-Hodeidah receive humanitarian aid donated by the World Food Programme. The WFP has since raised the alarm about the misappropriation of food aid in areas controlled by the Houthis. [Essa Ahmed/AFP] 

The World Food Programme (WFP) has warned the Houthis (Ansarallah) it may stop delivering relief in areas under their control after learning that many in Sanaa have not been receiving the food rations allocated to them.

In other areas controlled by the Houthis, hungry people have only received part of the rations to which they are due, the WFP said after conducting a review.

In a Monday (December 31st) statement, the WFP asked the Iran-backed militia to put an immediate end to the misappropriation of humanitarian relief after discovering widespread fraud and manipulation on the part of local officials.

The warning was issued after the WFP found evidence of such practices in Sanaa and other parts of Yemen under the control of the Houthis.

"A WFP survey of registered beneficiaries has revealed that many in [Sanaa] have not been receiving the food rations to which they are entitled. In other areas, hungry people have been denied full rations," the WFP statement said.

"It was discovered that some food relief is being given to people not entitled to it and some is being sold for gain in the markets of [Sanaa]," it said.

According to the WFP, the misappropriation of food relief came to light during a review it conducted in recent months that was prompted by an increasing number of reports of humanitarian food for sale on the market in Sanaa.

The WFP discovered fraud was being perpetrated by at least one local partner organisation it had tasked with handling and distributing food assistance.

The local organisation is affiliated with the Houthi-controlled Ministry of Education in Sanaa.

'Stealing food from hungry people'

"This conduct amounts to the stealing of food from the mouths of hungry people," WFP executive director David Beasley said in the statement.

"At a time when children are dying in Yemen because they do not have enough food to eat, that is an outrage," he said. "This criminal behaviour must stop immediately."

During the WFP review, monitors amassed photographic and other evidence of trucks illicitly removing food from designated food distribution centres.

They also found that the selection of beneficiaries was being manipulated by local officials and that food distribution records were being falsified.

"I am asking the Houthi authorities in Sanaa to take immediate action to end the diversion of food assistance and ensure that it reaches those people who rely on it to stay alive," Beasley said.

"Unless this happens, we will have 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," he added.

"Meanwhile, we are continuing our investigations and addressing those shortcomings which have given rise to this misuse of aid," he continued.

Tampering with humanitarian aid

According to Yemen's Higher Relief Committee, the Houthis blocked the entry of more than 88 relief, commercial and oil ships to al-Hodeidah and Saleef ports in al-Hodeidah province between May 2015 and December 2018.

Among them were 34 ships which they detained for more than six months until most of the perishable cargo they carried had gone bad.

The Houthis also shelled seven relief, commercial and oil ships in the Red Sea, including four vessels from Saudi Arabia, two from the UAE and one from Turkey, local news agencies reported.

The Yemeni government has demanded more than once that the main offices of UN relief agencies be moved from Sanaa to the temporary capital in Aden, Deputy Minister of Human Rights Nabil Abdel Hafiz told Al-Mashareq.

This request has been made because of pressures exercised against relief agencies, which include threats issued to humanitarian workers, he added.

"The Yemeni Foreign Ministry has urged the international community to denounce the practices which the WFP survey has revealed," he said.

"We have previously sounded the alarm about the local organisations which distribute aid to the needy and which operate under the oversight of Houthis," he added.

These organisations "either distribute aid to Houthi loyalists, or sell it at local markets for their account and deprive the needy and poor of the aid which they totally rely on", he added.

Complaints of theft and fraud

Qassim al-Shawesh, a journalist working for the Houthi-controlled al-Thawra newspaper, complained to the WFP after failing to receive food aid last year.

He did so after learning that monthly food assistance had been allocated to the employees of the Sanaa-based newspaper, who have not received salaries for close to two years.

In his complaint, posted to his Facebook page, al-Shawesh asked the WFP to investigate and check the delivery records.

"The theft and fraud which I have been subjected to do not apply to me only, but to 1,000 people working at al-Thawra Press Foundation," he said.

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We're here in al-Thawra district, we don't have anything, and none of the organisations is given access to this district. The people are in a very bad situation; my neighbours are starving to death. Fear God in our people, o, Houthis and legitimate government forces! Fear God!