Diversion is preventing food aid from reaching people who need it in Yemen, including “many” in the Houthi rebel-controlled capital Sana’a, the World Food Programme said Monday, calling it an “outrage” that aid was being siphoned off with the involvement of local officials.
The UN’s food relief agency said it uncovered the misappropriation in a review during recent months, when it found that “at least one partner organisation” affiliated with the Houthi Ministry of Education in Sana’a was committing fraud. It added that local officials were manipulating the lists that determine who receives aid, records were falsified, and trucks were “illicitly” removing food from distribution centres.
“This conduct amounts to the stealing of food from the mouths of hungry people,” WFP executive director David Beasley said in a statement, which said the agency was “demanding an immediate end to the diversion of humanitarian food relief in Yemen.”
“At a time when children are dying in Yemen because they haven’t enough food to eat, that is an outrage,” Beasley said. “This criminal behaviour must stop immediately.”
Conflict has left some 16 million Yemenis severely food insecure: WFP says it supplies some eight million people a month with food aid, and aims to increase that number to as high as 12 million as the situation verges on famine in some parts of the country. WFP reports that this will cost $152 million per month. It received $954 million for Yemen operations in 2018.
For three years and nine months, Houthi rebels have been fighting the government of the internationally recognised (but exiled) President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi and his allies, who are backed by a Saudi Arabia-led coalition. Throughout the war, all sides have been accused of preventing aid from reaching its targets, with aid agencies saying an on-off blockade of northern Houthi-run ports by the coalition is a major cause of hunger in Yemen.
Earlier on Monday, the Associated Press reported that “factions and militias on all sides of the conflict have blocked food aid from going to groups suspected of disloyalty, diverted it to front-line combat units or sold it for profit on the black market.” Quoting a former Houthi aid official, the AP investigation alleged that 15,000 monthly rations were being siphoned off in Sana’a.
An internal WFP audit, started in November 2017 and released in March 2018, highlighted “political interference” and risks of aid diversion in Yemen.
”The de facto authorities [Houthis] continue to impose restrictions that impact WFP’s ability to provide assurance that assistance is reaching the most food insecure and vulnerable populations,” the audit said. “Lack of access due to insecurity, interference by the de facto authorities, and the large number of distribution sites have led to monitoring gaps in certain governorates and districts.”
The audit singled out the Houthi Ministry of Education for criticism, saying there were “significant weaknesses and poor performance” in its delivery of food. The ministry handled 40 percent of WFP’s food aid recipients in Yemen, according to the audit.
WFP and other UN agencies often use local partners, including government agencies, both to determine who needs aid and to deliver it. However, such arrangements typically involve independent needs assessment, monitoring, and end-user verification procedures to make sure aid ends up where it is intended. The audit found that Houthi authorities denied WFP the opportunity to even check “the validity of beneficiary lists”.
WFP said in Monday’s statement that authorities in Houthi-controlled areas had “repeatedly resisted” efforts to overhaul the relief system in Yemen, including changes in how those who receive aid are selected, more monitoring of where the aid goes, and nationwide biometric registration of those enrolled for food aid.
“I’m asking the Houthi authorities in Sana’a to take immediate action to end the diversion of food assistance and ensure that it reaches those people who rely on it to stay alive,” said Beasley.