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WFP resumes food distribution in Yemen's Sanaa after deal with Houthis

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WFP resumes food distribution in Yemen's Sanaa after deal with Houthis
Workers carry the aid provided by the World Food Programme (WFP) for distribution in Sanaa, Yemen August 21, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi   -   Copyright  MOHAMED AL-SAYAGHI(Reuters)
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SANAA (Reuters) – The World Food Programme (WFP) on Wednesday resumed distributing food to 850,000 people in Yemen’s capital Sanaa after a two-month stoppage, having reached an agreement with the Iran-aligned Houthi authorities who control the city.

The U.N. agency halted most aid in Sanaa on June 20 out of concern that food was being diverted from vulnerable people, maintaining nutrition programmes only for malnourished children, pregnant and nursing mothers.

Dozens of people gathered at a distribution centre in Sanaa to be given flour, vegetable oil, pulses, salt and sugar.

“We are relieved. Thank God. All we can do is praise God,” said one recipient, Um Ahmed.

Both Houthi forces and the Saudi-led coalition they are fighting in Yemen have used access to aid and food as a political tool, exacerbating what the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with high rates of severe malnutrition among children.

More than two thirds of Yemen’s population are food insecure and WFP aid reaches around 11 million people there each month.

The WFP discovered in December 2018 that donated food in Houthi areas was being systematically diverted through a local partner connected to the group. The Houthis have said the WFP insisted on controlling recipient data in violation of Yemeni law.

Food distribution for 850,000 people had resumed after the WFP was allowed to “introduce the key accountability measures”, its spokeswoman Annabel Symington told Reuters.

When the agreement with Houthi authorities was reached in early August, the WFP said a biometric registration process would be introduced for 9 million people living in areas under Houthi control.

The system – using iris scanning, fingerprints or facial recognition – is already used in areas controlled by the Saudi-backed government that holds the southern port city of Aden and some western coastal towns.

The Saudi-led Sunni Muslim coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015 against the Houthis, who control most large urban centres.

“Yemen remains the most concerning food security situation the world. We have seen some improvement in some hard to reach areas in recent months but we can’t rest now,” Symington said.

(Reporting by Reuters team in Yemen; Writing by Lisa Barrington)

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