‘Stealing’ food from hungry Yemenis ‘must stop immediately’, says UN agency

OCHA/ Charlotte Cans Nine-month-old baby weighing 3 kg is being treated for acute malnutrition in a Sana’a hospital.

This article is brought to you in association with the United Nations.

After uncovering evidence that humanitarian food supplies are being diverted in Yemen’s Houthi-controlled capital, Sana’a, and other parts of the country, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has demanded an immediate end to the practice.

“This conduct amounts to the stealing of food from the mouths of hungry people,” WFP Executive Director David Beasley said on Monday.

Prompted by an increasing number of reports that humanitarian food was on sale in the capital, WFP conducted a survey to discover the misappropriation of those supplies.

It unearthed fraud by at least one local partner organization affiliated with the de facto Ministry of Education in Sana’a handling and distribution of WFP food assistance.

“At a time when children are dying in Yemen because they haven’t enough food to eat, that is an outrage,” stressed Mr. Beasley. “This criminal behaviour must stop immediately.”

The UN food agency’s assistance has been key in preventing famine, but as the food security situation deteriorates further aid is being dramatically ramped up to reach as many as 12 million severely hungry people in the war-torn country.

“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,” Mr. Beasley said.

“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,” he added.

During their checks, WFP monitors:

  • amassed photographic and other evidence of trucks illicitly removing food from designated distribution centres.
  • found that beneficiary selections were being manipulated by local officials
  • exposed falsified food distribution records.
  • discovered that unauthorized people were given food.
  • identified that food was being sold in Sa’ana markets.

The de facto authorities in Houthi-controlled abuse-prone areas have been resisting a WFP-supported overhaul of the relief system there, including more monitoring and revamping the beneficiary registration and selection processes.

Meanwhile, the WFP chief said: “We’re continuing our investigations and addressing those shortcomings which have given rise to this misuse of aid.”

The Yemen war intensified in early 2015 when a Saudi-led coalition joined the Government fight against Houthi rebels, instituting an aerial bombing campaign.

The warring sides have recently begun peace talks that have eased the challenges of getting food through the gateway port city of Hudaydah. However, the problem remains with what happens to the aid once it makes landfall.

As millions of people depend on humanitarian food assistance for their survival, it is vital that it reaches those who most need it.

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