Skip to main content

Humanitarian aid floods the black market in Taiz

While the Houthis maintain a siege on Taiz city, traders have purchased the seized aid and smuggled it through unpaved roads
The costs of basic foodstuffs used to be more than double their original price in Taiz when the Houthis refused to allow the traders passage (AFP)

When representatives of Yemen’s government and the Houthi rebels met last week in Switzerland, they agreed to resume the delivery of humanitarian aid to the besieged city of Taiz.

However, since the agreement, the Houthis have prevented aid organisations from delivering the basic commodities – foodstuffs and medical supplies - to Taiz. Instead, they have forced the organisations to store their aid in the nearby town of Al-Hawban, an area under Houthi control.

This week, the Houthis began selling the goods to some Taiz traders, thereby putting the humanitarian aid on the black market. Sources on the ground told Middle East Eye that these traders had delivered humanitarian aid such as flour, wheat, cooking oil, and beans to Taiz for a price.

The humanitarian coordinator for the UN office in Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, said that the humanitarian aid had reached Taiz on 15 December, but the head of the Coalition of the Humanitarian Relief in Taiz, which consists of 200 associations and aid organisations inside Taiz, Abdul Kareem Shamsan, denied McGoldrick’s statement.

Shamsan told Middle East Eye: "The humanitarian aid reached to the hands of the Houthis in Al-Hawban area, and there is not a single organisation could get the aid to the besieged areas inside Taiz city".

He stated that the traders had smuggled the commodities through unpaved roads.

"We started to see the humanitarian aid available with the traders in the black market in Taiz city, and the humanitarian aid already reached to the hands of the Houthis in Al-Hawban, so this is a clear indication that the Houthis sell the aid to traders," Shamsan added.

He pointed out that most of the residents in Taiz are in dire need of the aid and depend on the charitable associations and organisations for basic necessities.

Cheap prices

The costs of basic foodstuffs used to be more than double their original price in the besieged areas in Taiz when the Houthis refused to allow the traders passage.

However, as recently as this week, prices have dropped by 50 percent, as the traders entered huge quantities of the basic commodities.

The price of a 50kg wheat bag was as high as $55 eight months ago, but this week it had dropped to $28.

The residents expressed happiness with the new prices despite most of them not having the money to purchase these goods.

Ameen Al-Gihari, 38, a resident in Al-Dharbah neighbourhood, lost his job as a driver last April told MEE that most of Taiz residents do not have steady income, and cannot buy the basic commodities even at their reduced prices.

"Most of Taiz residents do not have money to buy the basic commodities, so we hope that the organisations buy the basic commodities from the black markets in Taiz city and provide the poor people with them as there are many people who are in dire need of basic commodities," he said.

But Naif Abdul Bari, a resident from Sala neighbourhood, told MEE: "To get cheap basic goods is better than nothing, as during the last eight months we suffered so much to get the basic commodities at expensive prices reached more than double sometimes.”

Aid groups purchase goods from the local market

Some aid organisations have resorted to purchasing these basic goods from the local markets in Taiz.

The Islamic Relief aid organisation is one of those organisations, they resorted to buy the basic commodities from the local market.

Sadaam al-Abdini, assistance programme manager of the Yemen branch of the Islamic Relief aid organisation told MEE: "The Islamic Relief resorted to buy the basic commodities from the local market, after we failed to bring the aid to the city, but the traders can bring the commodities through unpaved roads."

He stated that they had distributed thousands of food baskets throughout the past eight months, confirming that they will distribute 500 food baskets next week. Each basket consists of a 50kg flour bag, a 10kg sugar bag, a 10kg rice bag, four liters of cooking oil and 15 cans of beans.

Jameel Abdulbaset, a trader in Al-Tahrir in Taiz city told MEE that he has all kinds of basic commodities in his store after he imported large quantities from Al-Hawban.

"Although I have all kinds of basic commodities and the price dropped to around the half, but there are not many residents come to buy, but there are associations and organisations come to buy large quantities at once," he added.

Abdulbaset confirmed that he buys the commodities from wholesalers in Al-Hawban, and he knows that these kinds of commodities are originally aid to Taiz residents but purchases them because other traders will do the same if he doesn’t.

"We are helping Taiz residents and bring the commodities to Taiz city, if we do not buy the commodities because they are aid, these commodities will go to other provinces and Taiz residents will be in dire need of them," Abdulbaset added.

Who sells the aid?

While the Coalition of the Humanitarian Relief in Taiz accused the Houthis of selling the aid to the traders, the Houthis emphatically deny this accusation and have said that they do not steal any aid.

Zuhair Ali, a Houthi supporter in Taiz city, told MEE that the Houthi prevented the aid from getting into the hands of the Popular Resistance because they say the Resistance only gives the aid to their supporters. The Houthis also stressed that they do not sell the aid to the traders

"There are some organisations have aid on their stores in Al-Hawban and this does not mean that AnsarAllah [the Houthis], are selling the aid in Al-Hawban," Ali said.

Ali confirmed that there are commodities of the humanitarian aid with the traders in Taiz city and in other areas in Taiz province, pointing out that he does not know the source of these commodities.