The World Food Program has accused Houthi group in Yemen of hindering the start of biometric system to identify people most need aid in a country on the brink of famine.
"The continued blocking by some within the Houthi leadership of the biometric registration ... is undermining an essential process that would allow us to independently verify that food is reaching ... people on the brink of famine," WFP spokesman Herve Verhoosel said.
Sources familiar with the discussions said Houthi leaders asked the agency to stop the registration process in early April after realizing the new system bypasses Sana'a supervision, according to Reuters.
Since discovering in December 2018 that donated food in Houthi areas was being systematically diverted through a local partner connected to Houthi authorities, the WFP has pressed the Houthis harder to implement a biometric system used globally to combat corruption in aid distribution.
The biometric system – using iris scanning, fingerprints or facial recognition – is already used in areas controlled by Yemen's internationally recognized government, which is backed a Saudi-led coalition of Arab states.
The Houthis said the process should be run by the Yemeni Social Welfare Fund, A Sana'a-based agency that coordinates with international aid groups.
Mohamed Ali al-Houthi, head of the Houthi Supreme Revolutionary Committee, told Reuters the WFP insisted on controlling the data in violation of Yemeni law.
"We have proposed many solutions including to distribute cards exclusively to the beneficiaries and to use cash instead of food aid ... but they refused," he said.
He called for independent investigation because the WFP received money from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who lead the anti-Houthi alliance. The agency says it remains independent regardless of its source of funding.
Yemen has been racked by a 4-year bloody conflictbetween the internationally-recognized Yemeni government's forces, backed by a Saudi-led coalition, and the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels who ousted the government in 2014.
Aid agencies operating in Yemen have told Reuters that food and medical supplies can be held at ports and frontline borders for up to six months due to bureaucracy from both warring sides.
Verhoosel said 8,200 tons of wheat was recently prevented from unloading at Hodeida port by Yemen food quality monitors, even though there was no indication of problems.
He also said that in April 160 trucks carrying food aid from the southern port of Aden to the Houthi-controlled north were detained at checkpoints between government and Houthi territory. They have since been released but another 21 WFP trucks have been detained in Houthi areas.
Other agencies say the problems, including harassment of staff, interference with distribution list, difficulties getting visas and restrictions on movement, have deepened in Houthi areas in recent month.
Last May, he WFP warned that it may have to suspend the distribution of food aid in Houthi rebel-controlled areas in north of Yemen, over fears of "embezzlements" and diversion of aids from their actual recipients, as the group has said it disallowed entry of WFP wheat shipment for "containing insects".
On 31st of last December, the WFP directly accused Houthi rebels of fraud and thieving food aid intended for millions of Yemeni people in need and selling them at markets in rebel-held provinces and cities in north of the country.
Yemen conflict has triggered what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with most of the population in need for a type of humanitarian aid and immediate protection, including 14 million people risking famine and some 1.8 million children suffering malnutrition.