Human Rights

With Yemen in crisis, Houthis tamper with aid

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden

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Displaced Yemenis in Hajjah receive humanitarian aid donated by the World Food Programme and the Danish Refugee Council on December 30th, 2019. [Essa Ahmed/AFP]

As Yemen teeters on the brink of a catastrophic famine, the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansrallah) are deliberately squandering the efforts and funding of international relief organisations, sources in Yemen said.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on November 20th warned that Yemen is now in imminent danger of the worst famine the world has seen in decades.

"I urge all those with influence to act urgently on these issues to stave off catastrophe, and I also request that everyone avoid taking any action that could make the already dire situation even worse," he said in a statement.

"In the absence of immediate action, millions of lives may be lost," he said.

In mid-November, Houthis announced they had seized some 320 shipments of food and medication in the Red Sea port of al-Hodeidah.

In a statement, they accused the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) of importing expired food and medicine through the ports.

This is the same tactic the Houthis used in June, when they claimed test kits provided by the WHO are faulty and hampered their efforts to provide an accurate count of the number of coronavirus (COVID-19) infections.

But the WHO refuted these claims, pointing out that the kits were manufactured in Germany and distributed across the world.

"The batch of almost 7,000 COVID-19 test kits provided to Yemen by the WHO are the same PCR test kits provided to over 120 countries," the June 3rd statement said.

"The kits were tested and validated by three external laboratories, and the validation results were published in a peer-reviewed journal."

'Houthis frequently temper with aid'

The WFP announced in April that it would be cutting food aid to Yemen in half due to the lack of sufficient funds.

UN humanitarian and emergency relief co-ordinator Mark Lowcock said the UN received less than half of what it needed -- about $1.5 billion -- this year for its humanitarian operations in Yemen, whereas it had received $3 billion last year.

With 80% of Yemen's population in need of assistance, the UN describes the country's current situation as the largest humanitarian crisis in the world.

With their actions, the Houthis seek to pressure international organisations into accepting the conditions they impose, Deputy Minister of Human Rights Nabil Abdul Hafeez told Al-Mashareq.

"Houthis seized the aid and refused to release it, and are responsible for the suffering of Yemenis who have endured five years of war," Abdul Hafeez said.

Stressing that the Houthis have frequently tempered with or redirected international aid, he said they intend to advance their agenda and do not care about the lives of the Yemeni people.

Patients deprived of treatment

By holding up or destroying medical aid, the Houthis are responsible for depriving cholera patients of treatment they need, with more than 150,000 infections reported this year, as well as malaria and other infectious diseases, he said.

The people of Yemen are already dealing with an economy that is struggling as a result of the country's protracted war, said economist Abdul Aziz Thabet.

The suffering of the Yemeni people has been made worse by the Houthis' interference in the work of relief organisations and their squandering of donors' money, he told Al-Mashareq.

Political expert Faisal Ahmed said there have been many instances where food intended for civilians in Sanaa and other Houthi-controlled areas has been stolen or diverted.

Instead of reaching the intended recipients, this aid was diverted to Houthi followers or sold to raise money for the militia, he told Al-Mashareq.

Ahmed said the WFP refused to accept the conditions set forth by the Houthis, which caused the latter to take a hostile stance against the programme's work.

He called on the international community to put pressure on the Houthis and take strong stances against those obstructing relief efforts.

This is in line with a September Human Rights Watch report, which urged all sides to "immediately lift all unnecessary obstacles" to the delivery of life-saving aid, demand for which has exploded since the coronavirus pandemic.

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