Proposed Houthi aid levy prompts crisis meeting

Major donors and some of the world’s biggest aid agencies will meet in Brussels on Thursday to build a collective response to what is being called unprecedented and unacceptable obstruction of access to humanitarian aid by the Iran-backed Houthi militia.

Thursday’s meeting was prompted by the Houthi proposal of a 2 percent levy on aid budgets. “This is huge,” an aid official told the BBC. “It could be seen as financing the war.”

Aid organizations are now facing the prospect of scaling back lifesaving humanitarian efforts in order to avoid funding the Houthi insurgency.

“Humanitarian agencies must operate in an environment where they can uphold humanitarian principles,” said Lise Grande, the UN’s resident humanitarian coordinator in Yemen.

“If we reach a point where the operating environment doesn’t allow us to do that, we do everything we can to change it.”

The proposed aid levy comes after months of wrangling between the UN, humanitarian NGOs and the Houthis over access to humanitarian aid in areas under their control.

Aid workers say delivering aid is becoming increasingly difficult, with one official telling the BBC that Houthi-held areas are an “extremely hostile environment.”

The UN reported that it is being blocked from assessing who most urgently needs aid, and from monitoring the impact of its humanitarian efforts. This has already prompted the UN to reduce aid to Houthi-controlled areas.

Last year, the UN was forced to suspend aid to certain areas for three months because it could not verify that it was not being diverted to Houthi fighters.

Thursday’s meeting will aim to coordinate a response to this pattern of behavior. And according to the UN, millions of lives depend on it.

A recent briefing to the UN Security Council said “access constraints” were affecting 6.7 million Yemenis who needed assistance — the highest number on record.

The current conflict in Yemen erupted in 2014 when the Houthis overran the capital Sanaa and much of the north.

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