United Nations’ aid, including basic food, is being stolen by Yemen’s tribal chiefs, leaders of the Houthi rebels or members of the General People’s Congress party, sources from the UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM) have confirmed.
Aid is then being sold to merchants who drive up prices, or is distributed to friends and family instead of going straight to the 21.2 million people – or 80 per cent of the Yemen population – the UN has estimated are in need of humanitarian aid.
The British Government confirmed it has committed £85m in aid to Yemen, doubling its humanitarian funding to the country over the last year and making the UK the fourth largest donor to the crisis.
Vital medical supplies, water, food, nutrition and emergency shelter have been distributed with that aid to more than 1.3m Yemenis so far.
But 300,000 children under the age of five have been deemed at risk of severe malnutrition, with some children starving to death.
Former greengrocer Abdullah al-Jaraei was forced to go to Sanaa, the Yemeni capital which has been under Houthi rebel control since February last year, after al-Qaeda linked militants clashed with Saudi-led troops in Hadramout province, 385 miles southeast of Sanaa.
He told Middle East Eye: “The aid is a refuge from hunger, and the situation of the poor would be even more miserable without it.
“For the needy, the aid is a source of solace but I am worried this aid may stop.
“Aid is not sufficient. It should be increased or distributed properly.
“We also have no water or electricity. I feel the future of my family is lost.”
Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East
Basic items such as rice, flour and sugar can be seen openly in shops in sacks emblazoned with the UN logo.
Merchants who are struggling to get in their own stock are being offered the UN produce by the rebels and politicians diverting the products before they can go to camps or handed out officially.
A source from IOM said there are no official figures but the practice is definitely going on.
The official, said: “This selling of aid has been happening beyond the control of aid agencies.
“What has been sold in the market is the aid which has been taken over upon arrival by influential people.
“They then start distributing these items to friends, relatives or selling them to merchants.”
Shop owner Abdulwahid al-Wesabi is one merchant selling the UN-stamped sacks of food after he said he was offered them by vendors he had never met and who refuse to reveal their identity.
He said: “Throughout the month, some individuals came and offered to sell sugar, rice, oil and flour which bears the logos of UN agencies or other relief charities.
“They offer these products at a low price, and I bought them and now sell them. It is business.
“I am not supposed to question them and ask why they are selling these items. This is not my duty.
“It is tempting because we think about the price difference and how to increase profits.”
Mohammed al-Barid, who owns a shop in Taiz Street, Sanaa, was approached earlier this year.
He said: “A couple of months ago, a Hilux vehicle stopped in front of my shop, carrying eight sacks of flour, several bags of rice and sugar and a carton of biscuit.
“All these products had the UN logo on them. The men in the car offered the items for sale.
“We negotiated on the price and made the deal. Then I sold them as normal.”
Mr al-Wesabi said the men refused to say who they were out of fear they would face retribution from local thugs thought to be behind the scheme.
Customers who have been given legitimate aid also come to his shop to exchange goods for produce he has in stock, he said.
Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East and the 47th poorest in the world, World Bank figures reveal, and has been in political turmoil since the Arab Spring in 2011.
In September 2014 the Houthi rebels stormed the capital, bringing it to a halt as they forced major concessions from President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.
In January 2015 the Houthis disbanded parliament and placed the President under house arrest but he escaped a month later, fleeing to Saudi Arabia.
in March last year the Saudi government formed a largely Arab military coalition which carried out air strikes and sent ground troops in, killing more than 6,000 people.