CAIRO (AP) - The U.N. childrenâ€™s agency on Wednesday suspended cash transfers to 9 million of Yemenâ€™s most impoverished citizens under pressure from Yemenâ€™s Houthi rebels.
The move comes at a time when Yemenâ€™s local currency has been deteriorating, increasing prices of food and fuel, and sparking fears of a worsening humanitarian crisis.
UNICEF said the decision came after it was unable to set up a call center to get feedback from beneficiaries, without providing further details.
Two individuals familiar with the program said the Houthi rebels who control northern Yemen hindered the launch of the call center because they feared it might reveal their manipulation of the cash transfers. The two spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals from the rebels.
The Iran-aligned Houthis have been at war with a Saudi-led coalition since March 2015. The rebels have repeatedly been accused of diverting aid to their supporters.
Last week, Houthi security authorities banned the country director of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency from returning to Yemen, according to two individuals familiar with the situation.
The agency has been under pressure from Houthis to use the rebelsâ€™ beneficiary lists in aid distribution and to use Houthi-linked staffers in ADRA-run health facilities. When ADRA chief Ephraim Palmero objected, he was notified that he wouldnâ€™t be allowed to return to the country, the individuals said.
ADRA is among the most active international relief agencies working in delivering aid to millions of impoverished Yemenis.
The suspended UNICEF payment is the third since the project was launched in August 2017. UNICEF has said the cash transfers are a â€ślifelineâ€ť to a third of Yemenâ€™s people and â€ścontribute to avert the risk of famine and allowed targeted families to buy food and medicine.â€ť