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WFP gains access to vital Yemen food aid

May 06, 2019

DUBAI: The World Food Programme said it gained access on Sunday to vital food aid on the outskirts of Yemen’s flashpoint city of Hodeida a month after postponing its mission for security reasons.

The Saudi-led coalition fighting on the side of the government accused the Iran-aligned Huthi rebels of denying a group from the UN agency access to the Red Sea mills warehouse in April. The WFP had said the mission was postponed due to "security reasons".

WFP spokesman Herve Verhoosel said on Sunday a WFP-led mission and a technical team of the Red Sea mills company gained access to the food aid. "The technical team will remain at the site to clean and service the milling equipment in preparation for the milling and eventual distribution of the wheat," Verhoosel told AFP in an emailed statement.

Before the UN lost access in September the Red Sea mills held 51,000 tonnes of grain, which was enough to feed more than 3.7 million people for a month. In February, a WFP team visited the mills warehouse for the first time since September, when they became inaccessible due to the conflict between pro-government forces and the Huthi rebels.

The WFP said laboratory tests confirmed the wheat had been infested with insects and had to be fumigated to feed million of people. "An assessment carried out following the 26 February mission to the mills concluded that around 70 percent of the wheat may still be salvageable," Verhoosel said.

"However, the flour yield will be lower than normal due to the hollow grains (caused by weevil infestation) that will be sifted out during milling." He added that the food will have most likely further deteriorated in quality due to the hot weather.

This comes after an agreement was struck in Sweden in December, in which Yemeni rivals agreed to redeploy their fighters outside the ports and away from areas that are key to the humanitarian relief effort.

Fighting in Hodeida, whose port serves as the country’s lifeline, has largely stopped since the ceasefire went into effect on December 18, but there have been intermittent clashes. Both the government and the Huthis have been accused of violating the truce deal, while an agreed redeployment of forces has not yet been implemented.

The more than four-year conflict in Yemen has killed tens of thousands people, many of them civilians, relief agencies say. The fighting has triggered what the United Nations describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with 3.3 million people still displaced and 24.1 million -- more than two-thirds of the population -- in need of aid.