By tampering with relief efforts in war-torn Yemen, the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) have made a bad situation worse and could trigger a famine if alternative measures are not taken to distribute aid, Yemeni officials said.
As the war enters its sixth year, a huge percentage of the population is in need of assistance. But many have not received it due to the actions of the Houthis, with some aid organisations threatening to reduce or halt aid as a consequence.
Yemeni officials are now calling on relief organisations to put alternative mechanisms in place to ensure aid reaches the targeted recipients.
According to the World Bank, Yemen's war has pushed more than 21 million people, or 80% of the country's population, below the poverty line.
According to the UN, 24 million people in Yemen need humanitarian assistance.
But UN agencies and humanitarian relief organisations have discussed reducing aid in Houthi-controlled areas on account of the obstacles imposed by the militia and its direct interference in the distribution of humanitarian aid.
In late February, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) threatened to suspend aid, beginning in late March, if the Houthis do not take action to ensure the aid reaches its intended recipients.
According to Yemeni Minister of Information Muammar al-Eryani, a full 30% of humanitarian aid provided to Yemen has been diverted by the Houthis to finance the militia's "war effort, continued military escalation and mobilisation".
"The Houthis must distribute the aid to the millions of Yemenis who are starving and lack health care and basic services in Houthi-controlled areas," he said.
Al-Eryani called on aid agencies to conduct a comprehensive review of their operations in Houthi-controlled areas, and to co-ordinate with the government to find alternatives and ensure the distribution of aid to those in need.
New mechanisms for delivery
The World Food Programme (WFP) said it has been making progress with the roll-out of a biometric registration system targeting nine million people, which will help identify legitimate beneficiaries of food aid in Houthi-held areas.
This will be followed by the distribution of cash aid in three directorates of the Sanaa administrative district, it said, even though no final agreement has been reached on some of the conditions put forth by the Houthis.
The assistance provided by relief organisations is vital to Yemen, Deputy Minister of Human Rights Nabil Abdul Hafeez told Al-Mashareq.
He said the aid will "alleviate the effects of the war started by the Houthis on the population, especially in Houthi-controlled areas, as that is where the largest proportion of the population is concentrated".
Abdul Hafeez called on relief organisations to put new mechanisms in place to ensure the aid reaches the intended beneficiaries and is not stopped or diverted on the way.
"Houthi leaders exploit this aid and divert it to local organisations affiliated with the militia, and distribute it to loyalists instead of local field organisations," he said.
The militia has "demanded that the aid organisations hire employees loyal to them, who submit reports on the organisations' activities", he said.
If it is done correctly, he said, the WFP's biometric registration system will be "a failsafe mechanism", he said.
The Yemeni government has proposed that a decentralized system for the distribution of aid be established at the provincial level, economist Abdul Aziz Thabet told Al-Mashareq.
This would make it easier to reach beneficiaries "and minimize the exploitation of aid by the Houthis for their own benefit and the benefit of their supporters", he said.
"The Houthis are responsible for the plunder of aid and interference in the work of international organisations," Thabet said.
"Corruption permeates the process of distributing this aid, some of which is stolen and sold on the black market," he added.