DUBAI: A dispute over control of biometric data between the World Food Programme (WFP) and Yemen’s Houthi militia is straining humanitarian efforts and threatens to disrupt aid distribution.
In an unusually strong statement the UN agency, which feeds more than 10 million people a month across the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest nation, said last month it is considering suspending deliveries due to fighting, insecurity and interference in its work.
The WFP has said the Iran-aligned Houthis, who control the capital Sanaa, were hampering the rollout of a WFP biometric system to identify those in most need.
The biometric system — using iris scanning, fingerprints or facial recognition — is already used in areas controlled by Yemen’s internationally recognized government.
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 Sanaa’s supervision.
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 registration system used globally to combat corruption in aid distribution.
“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.