Five things to know about WFP operations in war-torn Yemen

Dubai (AFP) –


This year's Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the World Food Programme for its efforts to fight global hunger -- including in Yemen, where millions teeter on the brink of famine.

The WFP feeds millions of people across the war-torn country every month, in an atmosphere often overshadowed by tension and armed conflict.

Here are five things to know about the programme's operations in what is the Arabian Peninsula's most impoverished country, which has been embroiled in war since 2014.

- Largest emergency response -

Aiming to feed 13 million people each month -- among them 1.1 million women and young children -- the WFP's operation in Yemen is its largest emergency response in the world.

The country, with a population of around 29 million, is living through what the United Nations has described as the "largest humanitarian crisis in the world".

Both the UN and aid agencies have repeatedly raised the alarm over the disastrous consequences of the conflict.

The war has claimed tens of thousands of lives since 2015, when a powerful military coalition led by Saudi Arabia joined the government's fight against Iran-backed Huthi rebels.

Over 20 million Yemenis are food insecure, according to the WFP.

The outlook for the country has grown even bleaker this year due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

- Operations -

Every month in Yemen, the WFP distributes food directly or through vouchers.

Each family of six receives a monthly ration of wheat flour, pulses, vegetable oil, sugar and salt.

The organisation also offers cash assistance in areas where markets "are stable enough to provide for communities' basic food needs".

It registers beneficiaries on a biometric platform, through which people receive transfers equivalent to $12 per person per month.

Besides that, the WFP provides daily nutritious snacks to 950,000 schoolchildren.

It also provides food aid to 8,500 refugees from the Horn of Africa in Kharaz camp, in the southern Lahj governorate.

- Urgent financial aid needed -

Lise Grande, the UN's humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, said only $1 billion of the $3.2 billion needed for Yemen had been received this year.

The lack of financial support is pushing programmes to suspend operations.

Last month, the UN said that critical aid had been cut at 300 health centres and more than a third of its major humanitarian programmes had been reduced or shut down entirely.

The WFP is facing "a significant funding shortfall" as it urgently needs over $500 million "to ensure uninterrupted food assistance until March 2021".

- Rocky relations with the Huthis -

The WFP has had a troubled relationship with the rebels, accusing the Huthis at the end of 2018 of "criminal behaviour" and of selling food aid meant for civilians.

The organisation halted deliveries in Huthi-controlled areas for two months last year as it pushed for a biometric registration scheme to avoid the diversion of supplies.

In early August 2019, it reached a deal to resume deliveries after the Huthis offered guarantees concerning the beneficiaries.

Humanitarian agencies have also complained of a deteriorating situation in the Huthi-controlled north, with aid workers facing arrest and intimidation, as well as obstruction and bureaucracy that hampered their work.

In February this year, rebels said they had dropped a threat to impose a tax on aid, in a significant step that helped resolve a crisis that had jeopardised the world's biggest humanitarian operation.

- 'Rotten' accusations -

After the WFP accused the Huthi rebels of diverting aid, the insurgents claimed the programme was sending "rotten food".

Mohammed al-Huthi, a rebel official, said in early 2019 that the WFP was "fully responsible for... quantities of rotten food" it sent to Yemen and accused UN organisations of bias.

In August last year, rebels destroyed tonnes of food aid they said had expired after it was reportedly held up for months.

A UN source said the aid had been intended for delivery to families in Yemen's third city of Taez in November 2018.

But it "ended up detained at a checkpoint for months and months", the source told AFP at the time.