UK Guardian: Houthi rebels’ food aid theft only tip of iceberg, officials say
UK Guardian Newspaper
The theft of food aid in Yemen by Houthi militia might be only the tip of the iceberg, officials believe, as questions multiply over international relief efforts in the famine-ravaged country.
It has emerged that aid officials have been aware for months that the Houthi rebels in the capital, Sana’a have been diverting food aid into the key areas they control, including by manipulating data in malnutrition surveys used by the UN.
Officials concede that difficulties with access to many areas in Yemen under Houthi control, and aid agencies’ reliance on Houthi officials to collect much of the hunger data, have left them vulnerable to falsification.
The admission by the World Food Programme this week that food aid was being stolen has led to the UN food agency admitting that in other areas hungry people “had been denied full rations”.
In a statement, the UN agency said: “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 Sana’a.
David Beasley, WFP’s executive director, said: “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.”
Even as the theft of food aid was being reported, other agencies operating in Yemen were warning privately that they believed a more widespread diversion of aid might be taking place, raising serious questions over the effectiveness and vulnerability of the UN’s famine early-warning mechanism known as the Integrated Phase Classification system [IPC].
One senior aid official told the Guardian they believed that the IPC itself could have been manipulated to the benefit of Houthi-controlled areas and to the detriment of starving civilians in other parts of the country.
Commenting on the latest claims of the diversion of food aid, a spokesman for WFP said: “So far, our monitoring has identified seven food distribution centres which we believe have been engaging in the misappropriation of our food stocks. These centres, located in Sana’a, are overseen by one of our local partner organisations affiliated with the Houthi administration in the capital.
“Our interviews with beneficiaries entitled to collect food from the seven centres indicated that nearly 60% of people had not received the assistance to which they were entitled.