OP-ED

Who is Responsible For the Hunger Crisis in Yemen’s Tihamah?

National Yemen
Huda bin Nasser with her daughter, Hadiya, at their home in the village of Sheikhain, Yemen. All four of Ms. bin Nasser’s children were malnourished; Hadiya improved after treatment. THE NEW YORK TIMES
Written by Staff

It is estimated that there are around twenty relief and international agencies currently working in Yemen’s poorest regions that are worst affected by the current war. Nevertheless, despite this concerted effort by the agencies, one is still shocked by the recent footage of emaciated Yemeni citizens. Children and women were the primary casualties due to malnourishment and the outbreak of disease.

It is an appalling episode without precedence in Yemen’s long history. This famine is most evident in areas that completely blockaded with no access to food and medical supplies or in those areas affected by severe droughts with little access to international aid. One of these regions, Tihamah, was impacted by these conditions and consequently saw a rise in the number of fatalities, particularly among the children, elderly and women despite the fact that international aid and commerce traverses through that part of Yemen on a daily basis en route to other provinces.

Despite the fact that international aid organizations were well aware that the inhabitants of the coastal area in Yemen are among the poorest in the country, and they are the most susceptible to any economic warfare, they were unable to do much in order to alleviate the conditions; however, they excel in churning out reports highlighting the issue. Meanwhile, they would rush to receive much of the aid arriving through Al-Hodeidah port (neighboring Tihamah and the surrounding villages) and proceeding to transfer it to other cities like Sanaa, Amran, Dhamar, Hija, al-Muhwait and IIb, thus leaving Tihamah’s children and elderly to starve to death.

Tihamah was impacted by these conditions and consequently saw a rise in the number of fatalities, particularly among the children, elderly and women despite the fact that international aid and commerce traverses through that part of Yemen on a daily basis en route to other provinces.

Hamdan Alaly

We are talking today about some of the most renowned and established agencies and NGOs, such as Oxfam, Islamic Relief Organization, UNICEF, FAO, WFP, the Anti-Poverty French Agency, ACTAID International, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, International Organization for Migration, WHO, UNHCR, Doctors without Borders, ICRC and a multitude of others.

The crucial question here is, how did so many different organizations failed to secure the necessary aid to such a small population within Tihamah? Moreover, who should be held responsible for such a crime? Had this occurred in any other country but Yemen, there would have been indignant cries of ineptitude and anger directed at these organizations. As per standard transparency regulations, as acknowledged by these institutes themselves, it is well within the rights of every Yemeni citizen to legitimately question what has been achieved by these huge funds donated by other countries and international organizations to help.

Resources being wasted

According to the UN, all these international and local agencies operating within Yemen had received a combined total of $1.3 Billion over the course of last year. However, due to the lack of any oversight, many of these agencies failed to publish the details of their expenditures.

Although some of these agencies are supposedly humanitarian, it seems that they spent most of their efforts partaking in partisan political games and utilizing a sum of the donations as “agitprop” and siding with some countries against others whist ignoring the humanitarian crisis.

One of the transgressions the Yemenis should know about and challenge is, the big chunk of funds donated being wasted as operational expenditures (reaching up to almost 40 percent of total donations pre-war) wasted in exorbitant salaries and perks paid to international officials that would have otherwise gone to relieving the conditions of the sick and famished.

Suffice to say, the average monthly salary of such an official can reach to $12,000. According to a survey conducted by the World Bank, the total costs of operations for the UNDP and Social Fund for Development (including, salaries, travel, training, accommodation… etc) accounted for only 5 percent of total revenue just a few years before the war, as opposed to the 40 percent expended from the total international programme revenues.

The current scope of projects and total number of employees exceeds its operational viability. In addition, these wasted funds that should have been otherwise dedicated to feed the starving Yemenis, had detracted these agencies from focusing on their primary objective and made them turn a blind eye to the Houthi violations which prevented them from operating in some of the provinces, such as Hudaydah, Hajja and Taiz. Since the Houthi takeover of the Yemeni capital Sanaa and its suburbs, these institutions and its workers had been subjected to systematic provocation amid its total silence: either for political purposes or so not to appear as incapable of delivering humanitarian assistance to disaster areas, thus, risking losing donations and end of its assignments in Yemen.

An example of such practices and provocations by the rebels was the case of the office of Norwegian Refugee Council in Kasham, Hijah province, which was closed by the abu Mishqal, a Houthi commander accompanied by ten armed men, who seized the employees’ computers and satellite phones, some employees of the humanitarian organization have fled after being accused of collaborating with ISIS.

The Houthi militias were blackmailing a number of organizations; in Tihamah a militia leader called Ali Sharaf el Din demanded royalties to allow them to distribute aid to the needy. Furthermore, in a separate incident he organized and partook in the kidnapping of the Head of Oxfam operation in Shafar in Lahij province.

The militias are repeatedly looting the humanitarian aid in Tihamah, however, instead of condemning such transgressions, these agencies opted for the path of least resistance by distributing their rations to those with a less immediate need, purely due to the fact that happen to be living in more safe areas. As long as they fulfill their pre-determined quotas of delivering aid to the highest number of food recipients (rather than the neediest). And in the very few cases where some organizations such as UNICEF might insist on delivering food aid to Tihamah, they are then coerced into handing those over to local NGOs established by the Houthis, these in turn end up being sold in the market instead, with the proceeds being spent to fortify their war effort.

As a consequence, one can argue that these agencies, whether directly or inadvertently are culpable in the current humanitarian crisis in which many Yemenis are starving to death. That is why it must be demanded that they embrace full transparency and acknowledge their failure to save Tihamah’s inhabitants. Moreover, they ought to submit comprehensive reports detailing the amount of aid being distributed to the Yemenis and further identifying its recipients.

After all, is it not within our right to ask such legitimate questions?

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Nov. 3, 2016.

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Hamdan Alaly is a Yemeni journalist and writer. He can be found on Twitter @hamdan_alaly

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Last Update: Monday, 7 November 2016 KSA 00:40 – GMT 21:40

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English’s point-of-view.

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