World Food Program feeds 77,000 Sa’ada residents despite ongoing conflict [Archives:2008/1149/Reportage]

April 24 2008

By: Sarah Wolff
While price hikes and worldwide food shortages have affected all Yemenis, some of the most vulnerable to hunger and starvation are those residents in the north, who are being subjected to continued warfare. The World Food Program, or WFP, has been one of the few international agencies permitted to visit Sa'ada governorate throughout the ongoing fighting in the region. When the war in Sa'ada escalated in 2007, the WFP established a field office in the region and rented storage facilities to help provide displaced Sa'ada residents with the food they needed.

Since then, the agency, which is part of the United Nations' team in Yemen, has expanded its services to include not only the original recipients of the food aid – the internally displaced people – but also Sa'ada returnees and those affected by the war in general.

The WFP now assists approximately 77,000 people in the area with the help of Islamic Relief, which distributes and monitors rations in lieu of the WFP.

WFP Representative and Yemen Country Director Mohammed Al-Kouhene spoke with the Yemen Times about ongoing aid to war-ravaged Sa'ada and how the agency maintains neutrality in such a situation.

As an objective and neutral body, how does the World Food Program deal with the conflict in Sa'ada?

The WFP distributes food to all accessible conflict-affected populations in Sa'ada, regardless of race, gender, religion or political views. We ensure the delivery of food assistance to the right beneficiaries based on a long registration and verification process conducted by WFP trained staff.

How do they manage to distribute food to the needy in light of this?

Once the distribution lists are set, the WFP organizes the distribution points and delivers the food to the intended beneficiaries.

What channels does the agency use to distribute food in Sa'ada and how exactly is it distributed?

We've had a team deployed in Sa'ada since its operation began last June and the team is responsible for tracking commodities and supervising food distribution. The agency also has Islamic Relief as [its] implementing partner responsible for food distribution.

Is the WFP able to distribute food throughout the region or only in certain parts?

We've been unable to reach some areas in Sa'ada due to security constraints; however, based on a recent survey, so far, we've been able to reach approximately 80 percent of the affected population.

Are there parts of the Sa'ada region that the WFP wishes it could have better access to?

There are affected areas that are inaccessible to the WFP; however, displaced people from some of those areas continue coming to Sa'ada city to collect their food rations.

What does the WFP expect the food stability situation to be like once the Yemeni government and Houthis hold to their agreement and the fighting ends?

We expect the recovery process to take some time because some have lost their property, businesses and even their main sources of income. We're monitoring the situation closely and based on the variables of the situation, we'll determine whether to conclude, extend or elevate the operation to another level, including supporting recovery activities through the WFP's regular development program in Yemen or through a specific project.