A United Nations team has regained access to grain in Yemen that could feed more than 3.7 million people for a month, in a country “gripped with the world’s largest humanitarian crisis” but the cereal is partially infested and must first be fumigated, UN officials say.
The team reached the grain store on Sunday. It is in the Red Sea Mills silos just outside the port town of Hodeidah near a front line area in Yemen’s four-year-old civil war.
“We lost access to this mill in September of last year,” Stephen Anderson, the World Food Programme (WFP) Yemen country director told Al Jazeera from Djibouti.
For months forces affiliated with the Houthi movement which control the port did not allow the UN to cross front lines to access the mills on the outskirts of the city.
“We managed to first gain access, despite repeated attempts in late February and at that time we could see that the grain was in an advanced stage of infestation,” Anderson said.
An assessment at that time concluded that about 70 percent of the wheat may be salvageable. The WFP-led team is to begin work to save it.
“They’re going to restart the mill and try to get the fumigation under way so that we can get this food out to people who need it most,” Anderson told Al Jazeera.
The war in Yemen has caused the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with 24.1 million people – nearly 80 percent of the population – in need of humanitarian assistance, the UN said.
Tens of thousands have been killed, and the country is on the brink of famine.
It will likely take several weeks to mill what can be salvaged from the 51,000 tonnes of grain into flour and distribute it to the Yemeni communities most in need.
“We must have unimpeded access to this mill,” Anderson said. “We are scaling up to helping 12 million people a month so every bit of grain we can get is vitally needed at this time.”
The Houthis and the government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi agreed in December to a UN-sponsored truce and troop withdrawal from Hodeidah.
That deal has largely held but violence has escalated in some other parts of the country.
Talks aimed at securing a mutual military withdrawal from Hodeidah have stalled despite UN efforts.
Under the proposed withdrawal, a government retreat would free up access to the Red Sea Mills and humanitarian corridors would also be reopened. The warring sides would still need to agree on which road could be used to transport supplies from the site to recipients.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are leading the military coalition backing Hadi’s government.