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John Powell, Assistant Secretary General to the United Nations:

“Sometimes if our food is sold in the markets it is not sold because of corruption, but maybe because locals who sell it do so in order to buy something else, like selling flour to buy rice with the money received. However, we would be very concern if cases like this happened.”

  Interviewed By: Hakim Almasmari (YEMEN POST STAFF)
  Article Date:
February 09, 2009



Yemen Post: During your visit to Yemen you signed with the Yemeni government a Letter of Understanding for the implementation of an emergency operation in response to high food prices which will assist more than half a million of the poorest Yemenis, when will you start?

John Powell: The operation begins with the signature of the agreement; we plan to start the operation in 6-8 weeks, most likely the beginning of April.


YP: You visited the Somali refugee camps in Aden and Lahj, how do you evaluate their humanity situation and also the Yemeni efforts toward these camps?

JP: The first point I would like to make is to congratulate the people and the government of Yemen for their generosity in hosting the refugees. It is so often the poorest countries in the world are the most generous in hosting refugees. Secondly I would thank the people and government in their efforts to assist and care for refugees which are reflective in an open-hand for receiving refugees. Refugees in Khraz camp come and go as they wish and this is not the case in every country in the world. From the WFP's part, we have been providing food assistant to every refugee in the camp.


YP: WFP plans to distribute food among the poor; will the distribution happen solely under the WFP supervision?

JP: The distribution will be closely coordinated with the Government of Yemen, WFP, and NGO’s partners. The WFP will also coordinate with the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs to ensure that families benefiting from the general food distribution component are indeed the poorest and most vulnerable Yemeni people.


YP: Many sources confirmed that many food gifts that you give to the poor in Yemen have been sold to the Yemeni markets, which could mean that there is corruption involved, or that you are giving the food to families who don’t need it so they sell it?

JP: The WFP will investigate whether it is true, and will see why this happened. Sometimes if our food is sold in the markets it is not sold because of corruption, but maybe because locals who sell it do so in order to buy something else, like selling flour to buy rice with the money received. However, we would be very concern if cases like this happened.


YP: You give food through the School Feeding Program, how do you know if the students you support are poor or rich? Poor families would not send their children to school, and would give them some type of work to support the family?

JP: Students getting the assistance are living in the most vulnerable areas. However, these areas were selected to receive the assistance from the WFP School Feeding Program after we were sure about the families. Consequently, one can't differentiate between students when giving them aid. It is a very sensitive situation, and students would not want to show others they are poor.


YP: Do you support families that do not go to school?

JP: Not from the School Feeding Program, We have another program where poor families who were affected by international price hikes can get special assistance and this is what we do as well in many other countries.


YP: Are there any standards or conditions in order for a poor family to receive food and help from the WFP?

JP: Depending, if a child attends school twenty days a month he/she gets nutrition support from the School Feeding Program. Similarly if the woman is pregnant and attends the Health Care Center she gets the assistance and these are the only conditions.


YP: Do you give food to the family in general or only the children?

JP: Under the current price increase emergency operation, if a person is hungry and poor and is on the social welfare fund list, he has the right to receive help from us.  


YP: Does Yemen help in supporting the camp financially?

JP: The cost of providing the necessary requirements for the camp, including equipping facilities, and providing security is done by the government.


YP: Is Yemen willing to receive more refugees?

JP: No country likes to receive more refugees. In all our conversations with the government of Yemen and over a very long history, Yemen has been the most generous host country to refugees in terms of accepting them, particularly Somalia. It is not an easy thing to do and Yemen has been very openhanded in hosting refugees.


YP: One in three Yemenis now suffers from hunger, according to the 2008 Food and Agriculture Organization’s State of Food Insecurity Report, how could The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) help more than 7.7 million poor people in Yemen overcome their situation?

JP: Our program is designed to reach only about five hundred thousand and one in three Yemenis without enough to eat translates to about 6.5 million people in need for support. However, our program is designed to target those who are more vulnerable, and including those directly affected by the impact of the high prices.


YP: What are the main obstacles that WFP faces in Yemen?

JP: The first is raising awareness. Secondly, the inadequate nutrition means which in result weakens the health and the educational level of the people. Furthermore, the slow economic growth is also a challenge the government of Yemen is facing, in addition to an imbalance between the economic development and population growth.


YP: Being an expert in humanitarian issues, how do you evaluate the Yemeni governments work during the crisis of Mahra and Hadramout during the floods last year?

JP: It is not the WFP duty to evaluate the governments work in those areas you mentioned.


YP: But the matter is related to your field of knowledge, (humanitarian efforts), and we are asking for an opinion and not a court ruling?

JP: Countries learn from mistakes that happen, and even the United States during the Katrina crisis failed to do a good job.


YP: Are there any local business authorities or businessmen who provide assistance to poor Yemenis through WFP?

JP: It was only last year that some local companies such as Hael Saeed Group and others provided very limited support, but in general it was support in small quantities.


YP: You mentioned that the food distribution will most likely take place in the first week of April. Some opposition members claim that you giving the food at that time will help the ruling party in the Parliamentary Elections as they both will occur in the same month, and question why do you not have the distribution this week for example?

JP: We try to have the food available to the already identified people in the lists as soon as we can. We also seek to provide the assistance to those who need it as early as possible. Under no circumstances would we consider delaying food delivered to people who are hungry now. We deliver food to people because they need it, and we actually don’t care if the elections happen this week or next week. 


YP: Picturing Yemen five years from now. Will the crisis decrease or increase?

JP: With strong policy frame work, political will, and financial capacity to be able to implement those policies programs, there is no reason at all why Yemen could not show decrease in the social indicators such as illiteracy of girls and nutritional status particularly of children. For the government as one of the least developing countries in the world, and with the factors it control, if it sustains effort from the international community there is no reason to obstacle Yemen to be better off five years from now.