Int’l Pressure Forces Houthis to Abandon Tax on Aid
A United Nations official in Sanaa announced on Friday that the Iran-backed Houthi militias have backed down from their threat to impose a tax on aid that was aimed at financing their war effort.
UN leaders and aid groups held crunch talks in Brussels on Thursday to consider scaling back or suspending the delivery of vital supplies to million of people at risk in Yemen.
Humanitarian agencies have complained of a deteriorating situation in the Houthi-controlled north, with aid workers facing arrest and intimidation, as well as obstruction and bureaucracy that hampered their work.
In a letter seen by AFP, the head of the Houthi aid body SCMCHA wrote to the UN's undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs Mark Lowcock informing him of a decision to "suspend the 2% and not apply it for this year 2020".
A UN official in Sanaa confirmed the Houthis had backed away from the levy.
"The cancellation of the tax is a positive development for sure," he told AFP, noting however that other issues that still need to be dealt with relate to "access and bureaucratic impediments".
Yemen’s former Human Rights Minister Hooria Mashhour told Asharq Al-Awsat: “New national and international mechanisms need to be set up to ensure that humanitarian relief is delivered to those who deserve it.”
She also called for establishing “neutral and independent” standards to prevent any tampering with the aid.
She accused the Houthis of looting aid, impeding deliveries, threatening aid workers and placing several administrative and bureaucratic hurdles that slow down relief efforts.
The Brussels meeting heard that the Houthi attempts to tax shipments triggered the latest crisis.
"It cannot continue, the biggest lifeline on earth is at stake. There are 20 million people in need in Yemen," Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, told AFP on Thursday.
"We cannot pay donated aid money to one of the parties to the conflict. So that is one of the many red lines that we are fearful of having to cross. We cannot do it," he said.
Allegations of aid being diverted and obstructed are not new in Yemen.
One battleground has been expired food, with aid workers saying that food supplies had been needlessly held for months until they spoiled.
The UN World Food Program, which feeds 12 million Yemenis a month, halted deliveries in Houthi-controlled areas for two months last year as it pushed for a biometric registration scheme to avoid the diversion of supplies meant for civilians.
The European Commission and the government of Sweden who called the Brussels meeting said Friday that the dire situation may still require aid to be scaled back.
"We are deeply alarmed at the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian space all over the country. It has reached a breaking point where delivery of life-saving assistance is at risk," they said in a statement.