Despite compliance with Houthi demands, obstruction and looting of humanitarian persists
International aid worker describes Houthi abuse of humanitarian assistance
Since taking control of Yemen’s capital Sana’a five years ago, the Houthis have consistently been accused of obstructing international and local aid organizations, looting aid shipments and imposing unofficial taxes on aid projects in areas under their control. The United Nations’ World Food Program partially suspended operations in Sana’a in June, after several unsuccessful attempts to end the looting.
Humanitarian workers complain that the Houthis seek direct control over the distribution of aid shipments and funding from international donors. In the latter half of 2019, Houthi interference has forced some organizations to relocate their relief projects to southern governorates controlled by the internationally recognized government of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.
A field coordinator for an international aid organization in Aden told Almasdar Online that the Houthi demands have increased in the last two years, despite the organizations’ compliance with Houthi legal procedures and tax payments.
"Humanitarian workers in Houthi-controlled areas are prohibited from carrying out field surveys and selecting beneficiaries," said the coordinator, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak officially. Additionally, the Houthis try to control relief organizations’ scope of work and demand that projects are implemented in and serve beneficiaries decided by the Houthis to ensure that aid reaches its members and fighters, he said.
“While distributing food aid with international relief organizations in Hodeidah governorate, I witnessed the local Houthi leader receive dozens of cases of goods and turn around and sell them in front of me to merchants,” he said.
In Sana’a, the aid coordinator said he saw a Houthi official with a military escort receive food baskets and give them directly to people who were in his personal car.
The practice of picking and choosing of beneficiaries to benefit Houthi political aims, while thousands of families who are supposed to receive the aid suffer, has become normalized in Houthi-controlled areas.
In a late November meeting with the UN Security Council, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Ursula Mueller criticized the Houthis for restricting relief operation in its areas of control and attempting to control them.
The Houthis, meanwhile, accuse UN humanitarian and relief organizations in Yemen of manipulating donor funds.
On Nov. 6, the Houthis established the Supreme Council for the Administration and Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and International Cooperation as an alternative to the National Commission for The Management and Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (NAMCHA).
In the text of the decree forming the new aid oversight body, the Houthis demand two percent of each project approved by the organization, in addition to incentives paid by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).