Dubai (hooly News) – The Houthi rebels in Yemen announced Friday that they have given up imposing an aid tax on the country at war, a measure that threatens to hamper the world's largest humanitarian operation.
Officials from the United Nations and humanitarian organizations held talks in Brussels on Thursday on the rebels' impediments to the delivery of crucial aid to the population in this country ravaged by five years of war and on the brink of famine.
NGOs complain that their aid workers are subjected to threats and arrests in rebel-controlled territories, including the capital Sanaa. They plan to decrease their assistance if the situation continues to deteriorate.
In a letter, a copy of which hooly News was able to see, the head of the rebel aid agency, Abdel Mohsen al-Tawoos, informed the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock, of the Houthis' decision not to apply "the 2% tax for 2020".
Tawoos said the tax was "only to cover the basic expenses necessary to provide aid to aid workers". "We hope to find other solutions to allow everyone to respect their commitments."
Before him, a UN official based in Sanaa said that the Houthis had decided "at a meeting on February 12, to cancel (the proposed tax) 2%".
This is "certainly a positive development," he said on condition of anonymity, noting that other problems still had to be resolved, such as bureaucratic obstacles.
– "Critical point" –
The conflict in Yemen, a poor country on the Arabian peninsula, was sparked in 2014 by an offensive by the Houthis who captured vast regions including Sanaa. A military coalition led by neighboring Saudi Arabia has come to the aid of the Yemeni power recognized by the international community.
Humanitarian organizations say the war has left tens of thousands of people dead, mostly civilians. Some 24.1 million people, more than two-thirds of the population, are in need of assistance, according to the UN, which speaks of the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
"We are very concerned about the speed at which the situation is deteriorating in the country. It has reached a critical point where humanitarian assistance is in danger," the European Commission and the Swedish government said in a statement on Friday. origin of the meeting in Brussels.
An agreement was reached by NGOs in Brussels under which aid could be "scaled down" or "even stopped", if it became impossible to channel assistance without violating the principles of these organizations.
The protagonists in Yemen had both blocked humanitarian and UN agencies, but the Houthi tax plan caused the latest crisis.
"This cannot continue. The most important humanitarian aid on earth is in danger. There are 20 million people in need in Yemen," the secretary general of the Norwegian Council for Refugees told hooly News on Thursday. Jan Egeland.
– Aid diversion? –
The Yemeni government of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi had sounded the alarm after reports that the United States was planning to suspend much of its aid in response to pressure from the Houthis and their proposed tax.
The government accuses the Houthis of using aid to "finance their war effort".
The rebels reject these accusations.
The aid controversy is not new.
The Houthis have accused the United Nations of distributing spoiled products. Aid workers said the products had been held back for too long by the rebels, making them unfit for consumption.
The World Food Program, which assists some 12 million Yemenis, suspended operations in Houthi-controlled areas in 2019 for two months.
This UN agency thus lobbied to obtain the establishment of a biometric file of beneficiaries in order to prevent the diversion of aid.