Sanaa, Feb 27 (IANS/AKI) The United Nations World Food Programme said that it has managed to regain access to a key grains facility at Yemen’s main port of Hodeidah for the first time in six months, meaning more food could reach millions who are risk of starvation in the conflict-wracked country.
“Tuesday’s visit to the Red Sea Mills is a crucial step forward but we need sustained access to the mills to begin the process of assessing the stock and moving the viable wheat to the Yemenis who desperately need it,” WFP Country Director Stephen Anderson said.
The visit by WFP staff resulted from lengthy negotiations between Yemen’s warring sides facilitated by the UN’s Redeployment Coordination Committee, Anderson said.
The Red Mills facility lies close to a front line in the strategically located port city.
At this stage, WFP is unable to confirm how much of the wheat at the mills is still fit for human consumption. WFP needs to carry out a full assessment of the stock before it can begin moving it out and distributing it to hungry people in Yemen.
WFP said it lost access to the Red Sea Mills when intense fighting broke out in Hodeidah in early September between Iran-aligned Houthi forces holding the city and Saudi-led coalition forces. At the time, the mills contained 51,000 metric tons a quarter of WFP’s grain supplies in Yemen and wheat to feed 3.7 million people for one month, the UN agency said.
Properly stored wheat can last in silos for over a year but the grain at the Red Sea millos may have rotted.
WFP has been using other wheat stocks in recent months as well as importing grain by sea and overland from Oman to help feed the population in impoverished Yemen, where 12 million people don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
A major donor conference in Geneva on Tuesday pledged $2.6 billion, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said – 30 percent increase on the amount pledged at a similar donors conference last year but well short of the $4 billion sought by the UN for Yemen.
WFP needs $1.5 billion to ensure uninterrupted food assistance throughout this year in Yemen, where some 20 million people – 70 percent of the population – are struggling to meet their daily food needs.