March 26 (UPI) -- The United States is cutting back on the aid it sends to Yemen amid interference by Houthi rebels, the U.S. Agency for International Development said.
The reduction in aid comes as fighting rages on in the Middle Eastern country's five-year civil war.
"The U.S. has begun a reduction in assistance in northern Yemen," a spokesperson with USAID said in a statement to UPI. "Despite the international aid community's tireless advocacy and diplomatic engagement, the Houthis have failed to demonstrate sufficient progress towards ending unacceptable interference in these operations.
"As a result, the U.S. government has made the difficult decision to reduce aid until we can be confident that U.S. taxpayer assistance will reach those for whom it is intended."
Iran-backed Houthi rebels have been involved in a fight with a Saudi-led coalition backing the Yemeni government of President Abdu Rabbo Mansour Hadi since 2015. The United States is one of the largest donors sending assistance to help the country, which has also been ravaged by famine and a cholera outbreak.
USAID said that despite the reduction, it will still support "the most urgent life-saving assistance in northern Yemen, and are evaluating these activities in light of the global COVID-19 response."
There are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Yemen, but USAID said it's working with partners and humanitarian programs to plan for and respond to the pandemic.
The United States gave $700 million to Yemen last year. Aid agency Oxfam called on the United States to reverse its decision to cut funding, saying it will be key for preparing the country for a coronavirus outbreak.
"We are working tirelessly to make sure no one and nothing gets between humanitarians and people in desperate need of aid," said Scott Paul, Oxfam America's humanitarian policy lead.
"We don't accept interference by any of the authorities in Yemen. But putting Yemeni lives in the balance through a premature and unilateral funding suspension will not improve the humanitarian situation. USAID says it will continue supporting life-saving activities even as it eviscerates Yemen's first and best defense against the defining health crisis of our time. That is simply impossible to understand."