Record 12.4m people reached with food aid in Yemen: UN

The Houthi militia in Yemen have used access to aid and food as a political tool. (AFP)
Updated 20 September 2019

Record 12.4m people reached with food aid in Yemen: UN

  • But still needed $600 million from donors to provide uninterrupted food deliveries for the next six months in the war-torn country
  • Houthi forces have used access to aid and food as a political tool

GENEVA: A record 12.4 million people in Yemen received food aid in August, the first time the targeted population was reached fully, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said on Friday.
At the same time, WFP said it still needed $600 million from donors to provide uninterrupted food deliveries for the next six months in the war-torn country. Rations could be cut from October if funds are not forthcoming, it added.
Houthi forces have used access to aid and food as a political tool, exacerbating what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with high rates of severe child malnutrition.
“New numbers from the August distribution cycle indicate that the UN World Food Programme has reached a record 12.4 million food-insecure people with food assistance in August. This is the highest number ever reached,” WFP spokesman Herve Verhoosel said in a statement.
WFP previously reached about 11 million Yemenis per month with rations.
The agency halted most aid in Sanaa on June 20 out of concern that food was being diverted, through a local partner, away from vulnerable people. However, it maintained nutrition programs only for malnourished children, as well as pregnant and nursing mothers.
WFP resumed distributions to 850,000 people two months later in the Yemeni capital after reaching an agreement with the Iran-aligned Houthi authorities who control the city. WFP said at the time a biometric registration process would be introduced for 9 million people living in areas under Houthi control.


Protests in Lebanon after move to tax calls on messaging apps

Updated 17 October 2019

Protests in Lebanon after move to tax calls on messaging apps

  • Demonstrations erupted in the capital Beirut, Sidon, Tripoli and in the Bekaa Valley
  • Demonstrators chanted the popular refrain of the 2011 Arab Spring protests: “The people demand the fall of the regime.”

BEIRUT: Hundreds of people took to the streets across Lebanon on Thursday to protest dire economic conditions after a government decision to tax calls made on messaging applications sparked widespread outrage.
Demonstrations erupted in the capital Beirut, in its southern suburbs, in the southern city of Sidon, in the northern city of Tripoli and in the Bekaa Valley, the state-run National News Agency reported.
Across the country, demonstrators chanted the popular refrain of the 2011 Arab Spring protests: “The people demand the fall of the regime.”
Protesters in the capital blocked the road to the airport with burning tires, while others massed near the interior ministry in central Beirut, NNA said.
“We elected them and we will remove them from power,” one protester told a local TV station.
Public anger has simmered since parliament passed an austerity budget in July, with the aim of trimming the country’s ballooning deficit.
The situation worsened last month after banks and money exchange houses rationed dollar sales, sparking fears of a currency devaluation.
The government is assessing a series of further belt-tightening measures it hopes will rescue the country’s ailing economy and secure $11 billion in aid pledged by international donors last year.
And it is expected to announce a series of additional tax hikes in the coming months as part of next year’s budget.
On Wednesday, the government approved tax hikes on tobacco products.
Earlier on Thursday, Information Minister Jamal Jarrah announced a 20 cent daily fee for messaging app users who made calls on platforms such as WhatsApp and Viber — a move meant to boost the cash-strapped state’s revenues.
The decision approved by cabinet on Wednesday will go into effect on January 1, 2020, he told reporters after a cabinet session, adding that the move will bring $200 million annually into the government’s coffers.
Lebanese digital rights group SMEX said the country’s main mobile operators are already planning to introduce new technology that will allow them to detect whether users are trying to make Internet calls using their networks.
“Lebanon already has some of the highest mobile prices in the region,” SMEX said on Twitter.
The latest policy “will force users to pay for Internet services twice,” it added.
TechGeek365, another digital rights group, said it contacted WhatsApp and Facebook regarding the matter.
“A spokesperson mentioned that if the decision is taken, it would be a direct violation of their ToS (terms of service),” it said.
“Profiting from any specific functionality within WhatsApp is illegal,” it added on Twitter.
But SMEX said that the 20 cent fee would be “a condition of data plans” offered by mobile operators.
“Also, Facebook previously complied with a social media tax in Uganda, which is effectively the same thing,” it said on Twitter.
Growth in Lebanon has plummeted in the wake of repeated political deadlocks in recent years, compounded by the impact of eight years of war in neighboring Syria.
Lebanon’s public debt stands at around $86 billion — higher than 150 percent of GDP — according to the finance ministry.
Eighty percent of that figure is owed to Lebanon’s central bank and local banks.