ROME – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is working tirelessly to meet the needs of millions of hungry Yemeni children, women and men who are threatened by a potential famine because of conflict. Our operational independence, impartiality and neutrality are paramount if we are to succeed and we need immediate and unrestrained access to the hungry so that we can reach those who need us most.
As WFP strives to deliver on our humanitarian mandate we face daily challenges due to the unrelenting fighting and insecurity in Yemen. And yet, our greatest challenge does not come from the guns, that are yet to fall silent in this conflict - instead, it is the obstructive and uncooperative role of some of the Houthi leaders in areas under their control.
Humanitarian workers in Yemen are being denied access to the hungry, aid convoys have been blocked, and local authorities have interfered with food distribution, and – most importantly, there have been repeated obstacles placed in the way of our independent selection of beneficiaries and a request for a roll out of a biometric registration system. This would allow WFP to identify and target the most hungry and ensure that they are the beneficiaries of food assistance.
This has to stop.
In 2019, WFP aims to feed around 12 million of the most vulnerable people – nearly half of the total Yemeni populations, at a cost to the international community around US$175 million a month. Already, many are not being reached because of the obstacles that are being put in our way. If we are not given the access and freedom to decide who gets this vital assistance, then we will have to take the hard decision of implementing a phased suspension of our operations in Houthi controlled areas.
The conflict in Yemen has thrown up multiple challenges but until now, WFP has worked with leaders to find solutions that have ensured food gets to the hungry. In 2017, WFP spoke out when the Saudi-led Coalition was delaying the movement of new cranes to the port in Hodeidah and mounting a blockade on the port that threatened the flow of aid to the hungry. The Coalition leaders listened and in time, the cranes were delivered and the port was reopened to aid.
Negotiations with Houthi leaders on the question of independent access to the hungry are yet to yield tangible results. Some of the Houthi leaders have made positive commitments and are working closely with us to create conditions that would allow for a fully independent humanitarian process of selecting the most needy and ensuring that only they receive the required assistance. Unfortunately, they are being let down by other Houthi leaders who have broken assurances they gave us on stopping food diversions and finally agreeing to a beneficiary identification and biometric registration exercise.
Earlier this month, WFP wrote to the Houthi leadership again. This time we confirmed that WFP has reluctantly reached the conclusion that unless progress is made on previous agreements we will have to implement a phased suspension of aid.
This phased suspension of WFP operations will be taken as a last resort and we will do everything within our powers to ensure that the weakest and most vulnerable – especially children – do not suffer. Nutrition activities that directly target malnourished children and women will continue, in order to mitigate any regrettable impact that a partial suspension may have on their health and well-being. We owe this to the people of Yemen and our international donors who support our operation.
WFP still hopes that good sense will prevail and a suspension will not happen. The ultimate responsibility for the welfare of their people lies with the Yemeni leadership. If WFP is allowed to deliver an operation that meets minimum international standards, we are still ready to play our part and to ensure a better future for the millions of Yemenis who are struggling to feed their families.
The United Nations World Food Programme - saving lives in emergencies and changing lives for millions through sustainable development. WFP works in more than 80 countries around the world, feeding people caught in conflict and disasters, and laying the foundations for a better future.
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For more information please contact (email address: email@example.com (mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org)):
Frances Kennedy, WFP/Rome, Tel: +39 06 6513 3725, Mobile: +39 346 7600 806
Gregory Barrow, WFP/Rome, Tel +39 06 6513 2150, Mobile: +39 342 8079718