In a significant step towards resolving a crisis that has jeopardized the world’s biggest humanitarian operation, Yemen’s Huthi rebels have dropped a threat to impose a tax on aid.
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.
The internationally recognized Yemen government had also sounded the alarm at reports the United States was considering suspending much of its humanitarian assistance in response to the pressures including the rebel tax.
“Scaling back on aid in governorates under Huthi control will affect citizens, not the armed Huthi militias,” Abdul Raqib Fateh, a minister and the head of Yemen’s relief committee, stated last week.
Allegations of aid being diverted and obstructed are not new in Yemen, which has been driven to the brink of famine during the long-running crisis.
One battleground has been expired food, with the Huthis accusing the UN of distributing maggot-ridden rice and flour, and aid workers saying that supplies had been needlessly held for months until they spoiled.
The UN World Food Programme, which feeds 12 million Yemenis a month, halted deliveries in Huthi-controlled areas for two months last year as it pushed for a bio-metric registration scheme to avoid the diversion of supplies meant for Yemeni civilians.
The Huthi authorities have dismissed the criticism, saying that UN agencies were playing politics and using aid to threaten Yemenis.
“This blackmail of reducing aid doesn’t work on Yemenis, and if they continue with this threat, then things will turn against them,” the head of SCMCHA, Abdul Mohsen al-Tawoos, said last week.