The world’s biggest humanitarian aid operation will be scaled-down next month in Houthi-controlled Yemen, because donors and aid workers say they can no longer ensure that food for millions of people is reaching those who need it.
Aid agency sources told Reuters Houthi authorities in northern Yemen were obstructing efforts to get food and other help to those in need, to an extent that is no longer tolerable.
“The operating environment in north Yemen has deteriorated so dramatically in recent months that humanitarians can no longer manage the risks associated with delivering assistance at the volume we currently are,” a senior UN official said.
Unless things improve, humanitarians and donors will have “no choice” but to reduce assistance, the official said. This would include curtailing some food aid overseen by the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), which feeds more than 12 million Yemenis a month, 80% of them in Houthi areas.
The United Nations describes Yemen as the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis and says millions of people are on the verge of starvation. There is little precedent for a such a large aid program being scaled-back in this way, which the sources called a sign of the seriousness of the concerns.
The Supreme Council for the Management and Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (SCMCHA), a Houthi body formed in November to oversee aid, did not respond to a request for comment.
Aid agencies have for the past year publicly and privately complained of worsening operating conditions, lack of travel permits and other access restrictions which have left workers in northern Yemen “exasperated”, in the words of one agency employee, and unable to deliver to full capacity.
“At high levels this has left the agencies, NGOs and donors asking: can we continue like this or do fundamental changes need to be made?” said another source familiar with discussions between donors and aid distributors.
Donors, U.N. agencies and charities have not publicly announced aid reductions. Two sources told Reuters cutbacks could begin at the start of March after consultation with donors this month. Two said they could begin sooner.