Human Rights |

Yemen minister blames Houthis for putting aid at risk

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden

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Displaced Yemenis receive humanitarian aid, donated by the World Food Programme in co-operation with the Danish Refugee Council, in the northern province of Hajjah on December 30th. [Essa Ahmed/AFP]

A Yemeni government minister on Friday (February 7th) accused the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) of putting the population at risk by engaging in actions that have left aid agencies "no option" but to cut back their assistance.

Humanitarian sector sources said aid to Houthi-controlled areas will be scaled down next month, as donors and humanitarians can no longer ensure it is reaching those who need it, Reuters reported Thursday.

The Houthis have been obstructing efforts to get food and other help to those in need, to an extent that is no longer tolerable, the sources told Reuters.

The operating environment in northern Yemen has deteriorated so dramatically, a senior UN official told Reuters, that humanitarian workers can no longer manage the risks associated with delivering assistance at the current volume.

Unless things improve, humanitarian workers and donors will have "no choice" but to reduce assistance, which would include cutting down some food aid overseen by the UN World Food Programme (WFP), the UN official said.

Donors, UN agencies and charities have not yet announced aid reductions. Three sources told Reuters that reductions could begin at the start of March after consultation with donors this month.

The Houthis are fully to blame for this expected cutback of assistance, Yemen's Deputy Minister of Human Rights Nabil Abdul Hafeez told Al-Mashareq.

They have diverted and manipulated the humanitarian assistance provided by relief organisations to those who need it in areas under their control, he said, accusing the militia of deception and engaging in corrupt practices.

"Houthis have created the so-called High Council for Managing and Co-ordinating Humanitarian Affairs to control all activities of humanitarian organisations, including the training of their staff," he said.

"There have been disputes between the Houthis and humanitarian organisations, including what happened last year with the WFP, which accused the Houthis of manipulating assistance," he said.

A history of corruption

The WFP partially suspended food aid to Sanaa last June, accusing the Houthis of manipulating food aid distribution both directly by selling it on the black market and indirectly by diverting it to their war effort.

"In addition, the Houthis prevented employees of some organisations from entering the country," Abdul Hafeez said.

Yemeni officials in December accused the Houthis of engaging in extortion attempts as well as attempts to impose new operating procedures on aid organisations aimed at diverting assistance to the militia's coffers.

"The legitimate government is trying to work with relief organisations on two levels," he said. "First, to divert part of the assistance that will be cut back to the [displaced population] in some provinces, including Marib."

Thousands have been displaced in Marib as a result of recent clashes between Yemeni forces and the Houthis in Nahm, al-Jawf and Sarwah.

"The other level is to hold talks with these organisations on a mechanism for delivering assistance to beneficiaries in provinces under the Houthis' control to avoid causing more suffering for the people of those provinces," he added.

"I hope no food assistance will be cut back for the affected population in Houthi-controlled areas, and that a mechanism will be created for delivering assistance to beneficiaries," he said.

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