May 21 (UPI) -- The United Nations World Food Program has warned it would suspend aid to areas of Yemen controlled by Houthi rebels unless its leaders allow unfettered access to those in need.
"Humanitarian workers in Yemen are being denied access to the hungry, aid convoys have been blocked and local authorities have interfered with food distribution," the World Food Program said in a statement Monday.
The WFP said the greatest impediment to its work has not been the civil war but "the obstructive and uncooperative role" of some Houthi leaders who have prevented them from independently selecting beneficiaries of its aid and from rolling out a biometric registration system that would identify the most hungry.
"This has to stop," the agency said.
The WFP mission aims to feed 12 million people in Yemen at a cost of $175 million, but many are not being reached due to the obstacles placed in its way, it said.
"If we are not given the access and freedom to decide who gets this vital assistance, then we will have to take the hard decision of implementing a phased suspension of our operations in Houthi-controlled areas," the WFP said.
The World Food Program said it's previously worked with Houthi rebels to ensure aid is delivered but negations over independent access "has yet to yield tangible results."
Earlier this month, the U.N. program wrote a second time to the Houthi leadership, warning it that unless prior agreements were upheld a phased suspension of food aid would be implemented.
"WFP still hopes that good sense will prevail and a suspension will not happen," it said without stating a timeline for the suspension. "The ultimate responsibility for the welfare of their people lies with the Yemeni leadership."
It said nutrition activities targeting malnourished children and women will continue during the phased suspension in order to mitigate its impact.
Considered by the U.N. the "world's worst humanitarian crisis," the civil war in Yemen between Iranian-backed Houthi rebels and Yemen's government has been going since 2015, resulting in some 22 million people in need of aid and hundreds of thousands displaced.