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Corruption steals food from Yemenis as the country nears famine



Day after day, Nabil al-Hakimi, a humanitarian official in Taiz, one of the largest cities in Yemen, went to work and felt he had a "mountain" on his shoulders. Billions of dollars in food and other foreign aid came to his war-torn homeland, but millions of Yemenis still lived one step away from the famine.

Reports of organizational unrest and stolen stolen goods flowed in. Spring and summer from Taiz area – 5,000 rice bags were issued without specifying location. , , 705 food baskets plundered the warehouses of a welfare agency. , , 110 bags of grain looted from trucks trying to make their way through the rugged northern highlands overlooking the city.

Food donations were stolen from the hungry.

Associated Press reviewed documents and interviews with al-Hakimi and other officials and assistants show that thousands of families in Taiz are receiving no international food aid, often confiscated by armed units affiliated with those led by Saudi Arabia US-supported military coalition battles are manned in Yemen.

"The army that is supposed to protect the aid is plundering the aid," al-Hakimi told the AP.

Throughout Yemen, parties and militias on all sides of the conflict have blocked food aid to groups Suspected of disloyalty, he passed them on to front-line combat units or sold them on the black market for profit, public records and confidential documents AP and interviews with more than 70 helpers government officials and average citizens from six different provinces.

The problem of lost and stolen aid is common in Taiz and other areas controlled by the internationally recognized government of Yemen, which is supported by the military coalition led by Saudi Arabia. In areas controlled by the Houthi rebels, the fight against the government's struggle is even more widespread in the nearly four years of the war, which has provoked the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Some observers in almost all countries have attributed the situation of near-famine land to the blockade of the coalition of ports that control areas controlled by Houthi. AP's investigations have shown that large amounts of food are entering the country, but once they get there, food often does not come to the people who need it most ̵

1; and asks whether the United Nations organizations Nations and other major aid agencies can work effectively in Yemen.

Following the release of the AP's Monday poll, the UN's World Food Program called for "an immediate end to the diversion of humanitarian food aid in Yemen." The agency said its own investigation found "evidence that trucks illegally remove food from designated food distribution centers" in areas controlled by the Houthi rebels. There was also evidence that "fraud was committed by at least one local partner organization" affiliated with the Houthis Ministry of Education and responsible for distributing UN food aid.

The statement states that the agency has learned that many people live in Houthi-controlled capital, Sanaa, has not received any food rations to which they are entitled, and that in other areas "starving people have been denied full rations ".

The World Food Program has 5,000 sales outlets across the country targeting 10 million people One month with food baskets says, however, that only 20 percent of supplies can be monitored.

This year, the United Nations, the United States, Saudi Arabia and other countries have provided Yemen with more than $ 4 billion in food, housing, medical and other assistance. This number has grown and is expected to increase in 2019.

Despite the increase in aid, hunger – and in some areas of the country – hunger over famine continued to grow.

For months, a coalition of global relief groups has found that despite food aid, more than half of the population is not getting enough food – 15.9 million of Yemen's 29 million people. Among them are 10.8 million people in an "emergency" phase of food insecurity, around 5 million people in a deeper "crisis phase" and 63,500 people facing "catastrophes", a synonym for hunger.

The number of people is counted People who have starved to death in Yemen are difficult because they have fallen into violently shaken areas and starving people often die of diseases that suffer from their weakened conditions. The non-profit Save the Children group estimates that 85,000 children under the age of 5 have died from starvation or disease since the beginning of the war.

In some parts of the country, fighting, roadblocks and bureaucratic hurdles have reduced the assistance of boarding. In other areas help comes to the most hungry families, but still not.

In the northern province of Saada, a Houthi stronghold, international aid groups estimate that 445,000 people need food aid. In a few months, the US National Library has sent enough food for twice as many people. However, the latest figures from the United Nations and other aid agencies show that 65 percent of the population suffer from severe food shortages, including at least 7,000 people in famine.

Three officials from the coalition-backed government told the AP that they would provide answers to questions about food aid theft, but then no answers.

Agency officials overseeing the aid work in Houthi – the National Administration and Coordination Department for Humanitarian Affairs – did not return this repeated phone calls from the AP.

UN officials were generally reluctant in public statements about the Houthis, partly because of concerns that the rebels could respond by blocking US agencies from access to starving people. In interviews with the AP, two senior UN aid officials used strong language regarding the Houthis and their opponents on the battlefield.

Geert Cappelaere, director of the Middle East of UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Emergency Fund "All sides" of the conflict hinder aid groups – and increase the risk of the country becoming involved in a widespread famine.

"This has nothing to do with nature," said Cappelaere of the AP. "There is no drought here in Yemen, all this is man-made, and all this has to do with poor political leadership that does not put people's interests at the center of their actions."

David Beasley, CEO The Director of the UN Nutrition Program said "certain elements of the Houthis" deny the authority access to some parts of the rebel area – and seem to divert food aid.

"It's a shame, criminal, it's wrong, and it has to end," Beasley said in an interview with the AP on Sunday. "Innocent people are suffering."

The rebels and coalition forces have been engaged in peace talks in recent weeks, a process that has led to fewer hostilities and has eased the difficulties in obtaining food aid to Hodeida Harbor City, which is a gateway to Houthi-controlled North , But even if the donors can get more food, the problem remains what happens to food aid when it lands.

& # 39; THE POOR GET NOTHING & # 39;

The Yemeni war began in March 2015 after Houthi swept rebels out of the mountains and occupied northern Yemen, forcing the government of Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi into exile.

After the rebels pushed further south, Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states formed a coalition Capture the Houthis and describe their involvement as an attempt to deter Iran, which has ties to the Houthis to rule in Yemen.

The coalition launched a rolling airstrike campaign and imposed an air, land and sea embargo on rebel north. For their part, the Houthis have blocked an important access route to Taiz, making it harder for aid groups to get food and other supplies into the city.

The Houthis, a religious movement of the Zaidi Shiites, turned to the rebel militia and controlled a vast area. More than 70 percent of the country's population lives in north and west Yemen. In these areas, say officials and aides, the Houthi rebels have aggressively campaigned to control the flow of food aid, pressurize international aid workers under threat of arrest or exile, and set up checkpoints calling for trucks "customs taxes" assistance tries to move across rebel territory.

"Since the seizure of the Houthis, the looting has taken place on a large scale," said Abdullah al-Hamidi, who previously served as Deputy Minister of Education in the Houthi-led government in the north on the coalition side earlier this year. "That's why the poor get nothing What really matters to people is very little. "

Every month, at least 15,000 food baskets that the Ministry of Education should provide to hungry families in Sanaa were diverted to the black market or to Houthi militiamen serving at the front line.

Half of the food baskets provided by the UN Food Program for Houthi – controlled areas are stored and distributed by the ministry, chaired by the brother of The Rebel Leaders.

Moouth al-Nagri, chief editor of the Houthi-controlled daily newspaper al-Thawra, told the AP that the newspaper learned last week that hundreds of its employees were cited for more than one wrong year, as they were food baskets received from the Ministry of Education. It was not clear where these food baskets had gone, he said, but it was clear that only a few of his employees received them.

Three other people with knowledge of aid programs in the Houthi area confirmed that they were aware that food baskets were being inappropriately withdrawn by the authorities Ministry of Education. The three people and many others interviewed for this story spoke on condition of anonymity because of the danger that the rebels would block aid programs or deny visas.

A high-ranking UN official discussing the subject on the condition of anonymity told the AP that enough aid is coming to the country to meet the demands of the hunger crisis, but much of it is being stolen.

"If there is no corruption," he said, "there is no famine."

BLACK MARKETS

All over Yemen, food that is supposed to be made available to starving families for free is being sold to markets.

The Houthis Ministry of Industry has documented hundreds of bags of World Food The program flour is being sold commercially after it has been repackaged by merchants, according to Abdu Bishr, who previously headed the ministry. Bishr, now a member of the rebel-held parliament, says both sides of the war are guilty of not preventing the diversion of food aid.

The 2017 AP video shows bustling markets in the cities of Taiz and Aden did not bother repacking stolen food aid – he sold edible oil and flour with the UN Food Program's WFP logo. AP journalists who reported in Yemen this spring and summer saw other examples of food. The logos of the WFP and other global aid organizations have been sold on markets in both Houthi and coalition territories.

"We've found a whole lot of business with UN tools," said Fadl Moqbl, head of an independent stakeholder group, the Yemeni Consumer Protection Association.

With the war devastating the country's economy, many Yemenis have no jobs or money to buy groceries in stores. Al-Hakimi, who has worked a large part of the executive director of the local coalition-backed government support committee in Taiz this year, said Yemenis need more than short-term handouts. They need help to rebuild the country's economy and create jobs that allow families to buy their own food.

When officials in Taiz al-Hakimi asked to take over the leadership of the relief committee, he hoped that he could help reverse the hunger crisis that had built up in the city since the beginning of the war. He soon discovered the extent of the challenges he faced.

The political power in Taiz is divided into militias that have been folded into Yemen's national armed forces but continue to compete with each other to control the sectors of their controlled city.

"Here's the only way to achieve weapons," he said. "Who is on the list of beneficiaries? Those who have arms, the poor, the most wretched and the weak can not put their name on the list of beneficiaries, so help goes to the powerful."

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LION'S SHARE

Coalition bombs and guerrilla fights on the ground have destroyed homes, factories, waterworks and power plants, killing more than 60,000 fighters and civilians. More than 3 million people were displaced, which increased demand for food and other supplies outside the country.

In a 2017 European Union-funded survey, two-thirds of displaced Yemenis indicated that they had not received humanitarian aid, even though people displaced from their homes should be an important target of UN assistance.

In resettlement camps in the Houthi-controlled northern district of Aslam, barefoot children and mothers whose bodies were reduced to skin and bones live in tents and huts made of sticks and burlap. The camps are not far from the villages where the APs reported in September that families were trying to avert the famine by eating cooked tree leaves.

The UN and other global aid agencies estimate that 1.5 million Yemeni children are malnourished, including 400,000 to 500,000 who suffer from a life-threatening "acute malnutrition".

One-year-old Nasser Hafez, who lived with his family in a camp called al-Motayhara, died on 12 December of malnutrition and other complications in a doctors-run hospital Without Borders. He was in a coma for five days before his tiny body gave up.

His father and his 16 family members have moved at least six times since the beginning of the war. Before, the father said, he had been a tailor and earned enough to provide his family with meat, chicken and vegetables. He said he did not receive a single food basket from the United Nations World Food Program.

"You sign up every month, maybe up to five times, but we never get any food," he said.

He The family has received cash transfers of $ 50 from the aid group Oxfam every few months. It costs almost half that amount to buy 50 kilograms of wheat from the World Food Program from a market that only takes one or two weeks for his family.

The Houthi rebels strictly control how much food goes into which districts and who gets it? They manipulate the official lists of beneficiaries by giving preferential treatment to Houthi supporters and families of killed and wounded soldiers.

"Some areas in Yemen have the lion's share and other areas are receiving a trickle" Bishr, the deputy of the Houthi-controlled parliament.

Five laborers told the AP that they believe the UN and other international groups are forced to sacrifice their independence in order to gain access while trying to get as many people involved as possible.

The Houthis "are threatening decision makers and international employees with permits and visa renewals," said a high-ranking AP staff member. "Those who do not comply will reject their visas."

He said he has discovered that his employees typed the Houthis for the content of his conversations and e-mails. As he complained about espionage, he said the rebels put in the visa and forced him to leave the country.

Beasley, UN Food Program chief official, said he believes some key rebel activists are interested in The well-being of fighting families has worked well with his agency, but there are others who "do not care about the people. "

"Every time you are in a war zone it is a difficult situation and obviously when it comes to the United Nations we are neutral," he said. But when it comes to ensuring that food aid reaches the people who need it, "we can not be neutral, we have to speak with all our might, condemn it in every way."

– [19659002] FIGHTING TAIZ

Even before al-Hakimi took over as head of the Taiz Relief Committee, officials and activists complained of intrigues and outrage associated with donated food.

In September 2017, the Relief Committee sent a warning to the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center, a Saudi government charity and one of the main donors in Yemen. The letter states that many of the 871,000 food baskets that the King Salman Center allegedly provided to Taiz and surrounding areas were "lost and unconsidered." Local groups allegedly distributing the food were said to have refused to answer questions from the committee, apparently because they wanted to make sure that "the truth never comes out" where the food goes.

In the spring of 2018, the government stated in Taiz turned to al-Hakimi, who has a doctorate in strategic development planning and has many years of experience in the training of auxiliary workers. Three helpers in Taiz told the AP that al-Hakimi is known to be a fundamental person who does not engage in corrupt business.

He accepted the job after giving the committee a list of 14 conditions aimed at remedying the errors in the relief distribution system, including requiring the committee to approve and coordinate all aid deliveries in Taiz.

One problem that Al-Hakimi and other assistants faced was the partial blockade of the city by the Houthis. The Houthis, who took over Taiz in the spring of 2015 but were driven out by coalition forces at the end of 2016, still control an important highway that leads into the city. This slows down the transport of relief supplies into the city and limits how much money can get into it.

Despite the challenges, he gained some success after taking on his new job. In one case, he turned to a military commander and secured the return of 110 flour sacks, which had been abducted by trucks in the highlands north of the city.

In most cases, however, this was gone as soon as the help was gone.

In early June, al-Hakimi and a local official unsuccessfully demanded that an Army known as Brigade 17 return 705 food baskets lifted from a warehouse, as well as the "personnel" weapon of the guard who had attempted the

"I spoke to everyone, but there was no action," said al-Hakimi, "the commander acted as if he were not responsible."

Brig. General Abdel-Rahman al -Shamsani, Commander of Brigade 17, denies that his unit had taken the feed baskets and told the AP that the receivers who had tired of the wait had "attacked" the warehouse and had taken certain food with them anyway. When the problems piled up, al-Hakimi made a series of complaints against bureaucrats and the military, writing in a letter to an army commander in chief and an internal security chief: "It's about d If you failed to take the necessary measures to bring back the plundered help of the World Food Program. "

If they did not quickly arrest the police and return the stolen items within 24 hours, he said he would" fully responsible for keeping Taiz's help "and for" any humanitarian catastrophe in Taiz "that followed.

There was no answer, al-Hakimi said.

By September he had enough.

"It is very important to do this work – but also important to have the power and the authority to do so," al-Hakimi told the AP.

He tried to resign, but a senior city leader pronounced it and promised that the officials would address the issues.

Nothing changed, said al-Hakimi. So he finally announced in October.

Two months later, an analysis by UN.N. and their aid partners that 57 percent of Taiz residents face food insecurity at emergency or crisis levels. After the collapse of the group at the end of the year, 10,500 people live and die in and around Taiz in areas that have been overtaken by a full-blown famine.

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The AP coverage of the war in Yemen is supported by a warrior grant from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting.


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