Human Rights

Houthis make Yemenis pay to receive WFP rations

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden

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

International aid organisations have been forced to reduce food aid in parts of Yemen under the control of the Houthis (Ansarallah) as a direct consequence of the Iran-backed militia's continued tampering with the distribution of aid.

Dhamar province residents told Al-Mashareq the Houthis have been imposing a tribute on the recipients of food rations provided by the World Food Programme.

Those who do not pay the Houthis 1,000 Yemeni riyals ($4) are not allowed to receive their rations, which are valued at about 20,000 riyals ($80), said Dhamar resident Dawlat Hammoud, a recipient of the WFP food rations.

"I have five children waiting for this aid," she told Al-Mashareq.

But before the militia will let her have it, she said, she has to obtain a short-term loan from a local merchant in order to pay the Houthis their tribute.

To pay him back, she has to "part with the container of oil provided [as part of the aid] for 1,000 riyals ($4), which is less than half of its market price".

Reduced aid to Houthi-controlled areas

Despite repeated warnings from the US government and international aid organisations, the Houthis continue to obstruct humanitarian operations.

As a result, the US Agency for International Development in late March began reducing the assistance it provides to areas under Houthi control.

The reduction of aid aims to pressure the Houthis to lift restrictions that have made it difficult for relief organisations to operate in Houthi-controlled areas, a USAID official said in a statement.

Although the Houthis have rolled back some of their restrictions, such as the imposition of a 2% tax on all aid, other restrictions, such as delays in granting travel permits, remain in effect, the official said.

"Aid obstructions are unacceptable and have already caused many aid programmes to shut down," US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft said at a March 12th UN Security Council briefing.

"We expect the Houthis to demonstrate verifiable progress and a commitment to ensuring the minimum operating conditions for the principled delivery of assistance," she said.

"In the absence of credible Houthi actions to address our concerns, the US will suspend US assistance to Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen at the end of March, except for certain critical lifesaving programmes."

About 80% of Yemen's population is in dire need of assistance, the UN says.

Last year, the US government provided Yemen with assistance valued at more than $740 million.

Corruption leads to more suffering

"The Houthis must stop their tampering with and corrupt handling of food aid, which goes to financing the group's war effort or into the pockets of its supervisors," said Deputy Human Rights Minister Nabil Abdul Hafeez.

As the war enters its sixth year, it "means more suffering at all levels, more displaced people, and more dire economic and humanitarian conditions", he told Al-Mashareq.

"The Houthis are trading in the sustenance of food aid recipients," economist Abdul Aziz Thabet told Al-Mashareq.

"The largest population bloc, or more than 70% of the Yemeni population, reside in Houthi-controlled areas, and so most of the relief and food aid provided by relief organisations goes to recipients in Houthi-controlled areas," he said.

This situation enabled the Houthis to "control both the organisations' work and the recipients of the assistance at the same time", he said.

"The Houthis previously imposed a 2% tax on the assistance that went directly to its coffers, but under pressure from relief organisations, the group last month lifted the tax and imposed a tribute on the recipients instead," he said.

This is in addition to the Houthis' "tampering and corrupt [handling of the assistance], including distribution based on lists compiled by the group or by local organisations affiliated with it", he said.

Manipulation of assistance

The Houthis' practice of imposing tributes on recipients is not new, said Mustafa Nasr, chairman of the Taez-based Studies and Economic Media Centre.

"The Houthis' manipulation of the assistance is what drove the US to decide to gradually reduce the amount of assistance provided to Houthi-controlled provinces," he told Al-Mashareq.

The WFP on January 28th said one of its warehouses in a Houthi-controlled area had been 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.

"It is unfortunate that this is happening to those affected by the war and that a decision was made to reduce the assistance," Nasr said.

"The Houthis bear the responsibility for this."

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