The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has blown the whistle over the theft of humanitarian food relief in Yemen after uncovering evidence of the practice in the capital, Sana’a, and other parts of the country controlled by the Ansarullah (Houthi) movement.
WFP wants an end to the theft and diversion, according to a statement issued today.
A WFP survey of registered beneficiaries has revealed that many in the capital have not been receiving the food rations to which they are entitled. In other areas, hungry people have been denied full rations.
Millions of people depend on food assistance for their survival in Yemen which has been torn apart by a bitter civil war between government forces and Houthi insurgents.
The misappropriation of food relief came to light in a WFP review conducted during recent months. It was prompted by an increasing number of reports of humanitarian food for sale on the open market in the capital.
What the checks unearthed was fraud being perpetrated by at least one local partner organisation tasked by WFP with handling and distributing its food assistance. The local organisation is affiliated with the de facto Ministry of Education in Houthi-controlled Sana’a.
“This conduct amounts to the stealing of food from the mouths of hungry people,” said WFP Executive Director David Beasley.
“At a time when children are dying in Yemen because they haven’t enough food to eat, that is an outrage. This criminal behaviour must stop immediately.”
During their checks, WFP monitors amassed photographic and other evidence of trucks illicitly removing food from designated food distribution centres. They also found that the selection of beneficiaries was being manipulated by local officials and that food distribution records were being falsified. It was discovered that some food relief is being given to people not entitled to it and some is being sold for gain in the markets of the capital.
WFP is currently scaling up its food relief operations to reach as many as 12 million severely hungry people in Yemen. Without food assistance, as many as 20 million people could be in hunger crisis in the country which has been torn apart by a bitter civil war over recent years.
WFP’s food assistance has been key in preventing famine in Yemen but, as the food security situation continues to deteriorate, the aid effort is being ramped up dramatically.
“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.
“Unless this happens, we’ll have no option but to cease working with those who’ve been conspiring to deprive large numbers of vulnerable people of the food on which they depend. Meanwhile, we’re continuing our investigations and addressing those shortcomings which have given rise to this misuse of aid.”
In areas prone to abuse, WFP is pressing for an overhaul of the relief system, including an ongoing push for more monitoring, reform of the beneficiary selection process to ensure that food gets to those most in need, and the nationwide introduction of biometric registration of beneficiaries. These changes have been repeatedly resisted by the de facto authorities in Houthi-controlled areas.
Peace talks between the warring sides have recently been taking place and are soon due to resume.
There are real hopes that the New Year will bring a lasting peace in Yemen, allowing more food to enter through the port and giving humanitarian organisations increased access to areas they have been unable to reach because of fighting and bureaucratic obstruction. In the meantime, it is vital that humanitarian food relief reaches those who most need it.