World Food Programme to cut aid as Houthis obstruct deliveries


The World Food Programme (WFP) said on Thursday it will cut in half the aid it gives to Houthi controlled areas in Yemen from mid-April after donors cut funding over concerns the Houthis are hindering aid deliveries.

The funding gap comes as Yemen is bracing for a potential outbreak of the novel coronavirus that would be devastating in a country where a five-year war between the Houthis and a Saudi-led coalition has wrecked the health system and spread hunger and disease.

“WFP’s operation in Yemen is now facing a critical funding shortage and is left with no choice but to reduce assistance by half to avoid a full stop of assistance in the future,” a WFP spokesperson said.

From mid-April families will get WFP aid every other month, instead of monthly. The United Nations WFP feeds more than 12 million Yemenis a month, 80% of them in areas controlled by the Houthis, who ousted the internationally recognised government from power in Sanaa in late 2014.

A nationwide ceasefire in response to the global coronavirus outbreak went into effect in Yemen on Thursday, raising hope for an end to the war.

The Houthis seized control of much of the west of the country just over five years ago, since when it has been engaged in a conflict against forces backed by Saudi Arabia and eight other Arab states. The conflict has created a major humanitarian crisis.

Lise Grande, the UN’s senior representative in Yemen, told the BBC the lack of funds would affect every aspect of UN’s assistance in the world’s biggest humanitarian aid operation as the threat of coronavirus looms.

She said: “It couldn’t come at a worse time with Covid-19 threatening.”

There have been no cases of coronavirus yet in Yemen; however, there are concerns the country could be overwhelmed in the case of an outbreak. More than half of the country’s hospitals and clinics have been destroyed in the war.

Some donors, including the US have already cut aid, claiming that donations were being obstructed and diverted in areas under Houthi control.

Some said there were long delays in permits and permissions and said staff had been harassed and detained.

However Houthi officials hit back accusing aid agencies, including WFP of corruption and mismanagement. Months of negotiations led to some changes however aid agencies say they are not enough.

“It’s not the right time for the world to be cutting aid to vulnerable people,” said Sultana Begum of the Norwegian Refugee Council in Yemen. “There are issues with the Houthis, but the world has to scale up its response to deal with the virus.”

A spokesperson for the UK’s Department for International Development told the BBC that it has not suspended aid.

However it is “extremely concerned that Houthi restrictions and interference in in the delivery of humanitarian assistance is now forcing donors and UN agencies to scale back their assistance in northern Yemen.”

A unilateral two-week ceasefire called by the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Syria came into effect on Thursday. The coalition said it wanted to support UN efforts for a political solution and help stop coronavirus spread. (Source: BBC)