Yemen's Houthis, WFP reach deal to resume food relief

UN food agency partially suspended aid to Sanaa in June amid accusations the Houthis were diverting the food relief.

    The partial suspension of aid affected around 850,000 people, according to the UN [Yahya Arhab/EPA]
    The partial suspension of aid affected around 850,000 people, according to the UN [Yahya Arhab/EPA]

    The United Nations' food agency and Yemen's Houthi rebels say they have reached a deal to resume food deliveries to rebel-controlled parts of the war-torn country after suspending the aid in June.

    Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, a spokesman for the Houthis, tweeted late on Saturday that the rebel group, which toppled the country's internationally recognised government from power in Sanaa in late 2014, had inked a deal with the World Food Programme (WFP). 

    Herve Verhoosel, spokesman for the WFP, said the "high-level agreement" was "an important step towards safeguards that guarantee the accountability of our humanitarian operation in Yemen".

    "We are hopeful that technical details can be agreed in the coming days," he added.

    The WFP halted some aid in Sanaa on June 20 out of concern that food was being diverted from vulnerable people but said it would maintain nutrition programmes for malnourished children, pregnant and nursing mothers.

    The agency, in December last year, accused Houthi fighters of stealing food aid and called for a biometric registration system to prevent misuse of food relief. Negotiations stalled in June with the Houthis saying the WFP was insisting on controlling the data in violation of Yemeni law.

    The partial suspension of aid affected around 850,000 people, according to the UN.  

    The Houthis' Alsyasiah website said Saturday's deal included a biometric database of civilians in need of aid to guarantee "effective and efficient distribution" and to "benefit the most needy". 

    The agreement also stipulated "total transparency" in the registration of beneficiaries and distribution of aid, it added.

    Al-Houthi, head of the Houthis' Supreme Revolutionary Committee, tweeted that "cash distribution will soon begin, God willing, in accordance with the mechanism". 

    Cash transfers to those in need so they can buy goods is a common method of aid distribution.

    The warring parties in Yemen's conflict have used access to aid and food as a political tool, exacerbating what the UN has called the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

    The biometric system - using iris scanning, fingerprints or facial recognition - is already used in areas controlled by the Saudi-backed government that holds the southern port city of Aden and some western coastal towns.

    Of Yemen's 30 million people, three-quarters need humanitarian assistance.

    Fighting between Houthis and government forces aided by the Saudi-led coalition has killed tens of thousands of people, most of them civilians, aid agencies say.    

    The conflict has also forced some 3.3 million people from their homes, according to the UN.

    Yemen: War Profiteers

    Special series

    Yemen: War Profiteers

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies