The Houthis deprived Yemenis of important humanitarian programs

February 21, 2020

The Houthi rebels have blocked half of the United Nations’ aid delivery programs in the war-torn country – a tactic for the Houthis to force the UN agency to give them greater control over the massive humanitarian campaign as well as cutting billions of dollars in foreign aid, according to aid officials and internal documents that have taken place.

The rebel group has subjected access to areas under its control to a set of conditions rejected by aid agencies, as it gives the Houthis greater influence over those receiving aid, as documents and interviews have shown.

A senior United Nations official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the Houthi disruption has hindered many programs that supply residents with food, and are helping displaced people who fled their homes due to the ongoing civil war for nearly 6 years.

“More than two million beneficiaries … were directly affected,” the official said.

The documents show that the Houthis are opposed to the efforts of the United Nations to tighten control over some $ 370 million a year already provided by its agencies to government institutions mostly controlled by the rebel group. These funds are supposed to be spent on salaries and other administrative costs, but more than a third of the money spent last year has not been audited, according to an internal document leaked to the Associated Press.

The United Nations has been largely silent about these pressures, but behind the scenes, the agency and international donors are sticking to their positions in the face of Houthi demands. The Associated Press spoke with seven aid workers, UN officials and independent agencies about the situation.

Everyone spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of revenge. The Associated Press viewed dozens of documents, including emails for relief officials.

In October, Yemen’s Humanitarian Coordinator Liz Grande sent a letter to the Houthi-appointed prime minister listing a long list of demands.

The letter seen by the Associated Press states that the “vast majority” of these demands relate to obstructing or delaying the delivery of aid and that many of them are in violation of humanitarian principles. For months, the Houthis demanded that they are given 2% of the total budget from aid, which was rejected by the United Nations and donors. In an email to the Associated Press, a US Agency for International Development (USAID) spokesman said that the Houthis’ attempts to “implement a tax on humanitarian aid are unacceptable and directly contradictory to international humanitarian principles.” The United States provided $ 686 million to Yemen in 2019, according to the US Agency for International Development.

Last week, the Houthis appeared to be backing away from asking for a 2% rate, but they continued to press for further concessions, according to relief officials.

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