Iran-backed Houthi (Ansarallah) militiamen committed a humanitarian crime when they looted a large UN food agency warehouse in Aslam district of Hajja province, Yemeni officials and relief workers say.
The World Food Programme (WFP) said on January 28th that one of its warehouses in a Houthi-controlled area was looted by "militias", who stole over 115,000 kilogrammes of aid.
A senior aid worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal, said Houthi militiamen were behind the looting, the Associated Press reported.
The WFP partially suspended food aid distribution in Yemen in June 2019, following accusations of "diversion of food" meant for Yemeni civilians.
The Houthis have been manipulating food aid distribution both directly by selling it on the black market and indirectly by diverting it to their war effort, distributing it to their supporters instead of the needy, the organisation said at the time.
Aid deliveries were resumed in August after a deal was signed and the Houthis offered guarantees concerning the beneficiaries of aid, the UN agency said.
The Houthis' latest infringement on food aid distribution has been met with widespread condemnation.
Yemeni Minister of Local Administration and Chairman of the Higher Relief Committee Abdel Raqib Fatah strongly condemned the storming of the WFP warehouse.
Fatah demanded that the UN and other international organisations operating in Yemen centralise relief operations to ensure that food and humanitarian aid are not looted by the Houthi militia, the official Yemeni news agency Saba reported.
He called on UN Resident Co-ordinator and Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Yemen Lise Grande to take measures to prevent the recurrence of aid looting by the militias.
"These events are condemnable, especially as they target food for the poor and needy, who became so as a result of the Iranian-Houthi coup against and seizure of state institutions," said Deputy Minister of Human Rights Nabil Abdul Hafeez.
The Houthis intend "to sell [the food aid] on the black market and enrich themselves at the expense of hungry children and women who are starving as a result of the war caused by the militia", he told Al-Mashareq.
The Houthis' aim is to increase citizens' suffering "and use that as pressure to demand more aid to loot", he said.
Houthis stealing from women and children
Mohammed al-Maqrami, media director of the Coalition of Humanitarian Relief, called on the WFP to directly accuse the Houthis of looting its warehouse.
"The WFP should have directly accused the Houthis of being behind this incident, because the warehouse is in an area under their control, and their overseers control the situation on the ground," he told Al-Mashareq.
The WFP is attempting to avoid a confrontation with the Houthis "in order to continue its operations and help the affected and those in need of aid", he said.
The looting of food aid is "a crime because it is stealing food from children and women who are the most vulnerable segments of society", said economist Abdul Aziz Thabet.
The local markets are overflowing with food products and aid provided by UN organisations, and this is the result of the Houthis' tampering, he told Al-Mashareq.
"The Houthi group abolished the International Co-operation Department in the Ministry of Planning and established a Higher Council to manage and co-ordinate humanitarian affairs," he said.
In reality, this Higher Council aims to "control the food aid and work of humanitarian organisations in general, including obligating these organisations to pay 20% of this aid to the council", Thabet said.