The United Nation's World Food Program is supposed to relief populations in urgent need of food supplies. It is not supposed to be a partisan organization. But in the war on Yemen it has now taken one side of the conflict and is threatening the other side with starvation.
The slow famine in Yemen continues unabated. Not only the people in north Yemen, under control of the Houthi and besieged by the Saudi coalition, are starving. Those living in the government controlled areas in the south have similar problems. There are many conflicting parties which makes aid distribution difficult. There is food in the markets but the people have no money to pay for it.
Many poor local men, even children, get recruited to fight on either side. The coalition of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and the United States have few of their own soldiers on the ground. The hire others to wage their war.
The U.S. is essentially running the Saudi air war against Yemen:
When a Saudi F-15 warplane takes off from King Khalid air base in southern Saudi Arabia for a bombing run over Yemen, it is not just the plane and the bombs that are American.
American mechanics service the jet and carry out repairs on the ground. American technicians upgrade the targeting software and other classified technology, which Saudis are not allowed to touch. The pilot has likely been trained by the United States Air Force.
And at a flight operations room in the capital, Riyadh, Saudi commanders sit near American military officials who provide intelligence and tactical advice, …
While the U.S. military claims that it intends to prevent attacks on civilian targets the results show no such influence. The war against the Houthi and their allies in Yemen has been a siege war from its very beginning. It was designed to use famine as a weapon against the population of the Houthi controlled areas.
The Saudis do not only bomb water wells and food production facilities on land but the also kill Yemeni fishermen who dare to take to the sea. The Saudi coalition also hired mercenaries from Sudan and elsewhere to bleed as its foot soldiers. Some of them are as young as 12 years old. The Houthi are likewise recruiting youth.
The UAE, which is profiting most from the war, hired al-Qaeda leaders and fighters to do its bidding. A prominent one is Abu al-Abbas who commands some 3,000 local fighters. Last year the Trump administration put sanction on al-Abbas for financing al-Qaeda. But its ally UAE is paying him millions per month to fight on its side.
On December 9 the warring parties held first direct talks in a U.N.-led peace efforts in Sweden. While the UN claimed that several agreements were found, none was published and both sides seemed to disagree over the outcome. The most important issue is the control over the port of Hodeidah through which most of the food aid to Yemen is shipped. The Saudis and the United Arab Emirates have for month tried to take the port while the Houthis defend it by all means because their lifeline depends on it.
The new agreement allegedly gave the UN control over the port. The Houthi as well as the Saudi/UAE controlled forces would retreat from the port and the city and let an unarmed UN force run the harbor. But the Houthi say that the UN would only monitor the harbor while their forces would stay.
Yemen’s Shiite rebels on Saturday said they handed over control of the main port in the Red Sea city of Hodeida to the coast guard and local administrators, but the government denied that, calling it a ploy by the Iran-aligned rebels to maintain control of the strategic facility…
“It’s a stage play in which the Houthis handed over the port to their fighters after they put on coast guard uniforms,” said the Hodeida governor, al-Hassan Taher.
Indeed, one published picture showed a "brigade general" in coast guard uniform "taking control of the port". Yemen's coast guard does not have any generals. Up to a day before the "general" was Houthi commander.
The UN very much disliked the ploy and now tries to penalize the Houthi just like the Saudis do, by threatening to starve more of them.
Just yesterday AP and the Pulitzer Center published an investigative report on how food supplies delivered by aid agencies gets pilfered during its distribution in Yemen:
Documents reviewed by The Associated Press and interviews with al-Hakimi and other officials and aid workers show that thousands of families in Taiz are not getting international food aid intended for them — often because it has been seized by armed units that are allied with the Saudi-led, American-backed military coalition fighting in Yemen.
“The army that should protect the aid is looting the aid,” al-Hakimi told the AP.
The investigation founds similar theft and pilfering of aid that is delivered to the Houthi side. Instead of being handed to people in need, much of the food aid is sold in local markets. This is not really astonishing. Any larger aid program in a conflict area has similar problems. Some share of the supplies always falls off the truck.
But the UN ignored the AP report that both sides are looting food aid. Just hours after it was published the UN's World Food Program exclusively accused the Houthi side of diverting aid:
[WFP Executive Director David] Beasley warned the Houthi authorities in Sanaa that unless they took immediate action to end the diversion of aid the WFP would "have no option but to cease working with those who have been conspiring to deprive large numbers of vulnerable people of the food on which they depend".
Just like the Saudis, the UN's WFP threatens to starve the people who live in Houthi controlled area:
"If you don't act within 10 days, WFP will have no choice but to suspend the assistance … that goes to nearly three million people," the letter said.
The Houthi protest against such a partisan ultimatum:
Yemen's Houthi rebels on Tuesday said they were "surprised" by accusations from the United Nations food agency that they are stealing humanitarian aid and accused it of taking sides in the nearly four-year-old war.
The World Food Program on Monday threatened to suspend some aid shipments to Yemen if the rebels did not investigate and stop theft and fraud in food distribution, warning that the suspension would affect some 3 million people.
The threat from the WFP is outrageous. "We will let 3 million people die unless you do this or that" is not the way the UN should talk to the weaker side of a conflict. (Curiously the @WFP_Yemen twitter account has now been shut down.)
The Saudis and the UAE use their purse string to influence the WFP. Two month ago they pledge another $500 million:
“What Yemen needs most is peace because that would make the greatest amount of difference in every Yemeni life,” said WFP Executive Director David Beasley. “In the meantime, this important donation will help us save children on the brink of death. I thank the UAE and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for a contribution that will truly save lives.”
I find it inconceivable the that UN or its sub-organizations take large amounts of Saudi money to prevent a famine that the Saudis willingly cause in the first place. The UN should reject such bribery. To then threaten the starving side of the conflict to withhold aid over distribution problems is reckless.
WFP Director David Beasley, a former governor of South Carolina nominated for the WFP job by U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, should be suspended from his job. His partisan behavior is exactly the reason why the Houthi can not and will not give the UN or any of its organizations full control over Hodeidah. It is the only port through which they can receive food supplies for the people living in their area. If UN organizations that are obviously influenced by Saudi money and issues partisan threats get control over the port, the siege on the Houthi areas would be complete.
Sooner or later they would have to concede their defeat. By then millions more would have died.