February 26, 2019 / 5:18 PM / 4 months ago

New U.N. access to Hodeidah mills could boost Yemen aid operation

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations regained access to a grains facility near Yemen’s Hodeidah port on Tuesday, potentially allowing an increase in food aid to millions at risk of starvation after years of devastating war, humanitarian officials said.

The breakthrough was announced by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at a humanitarian pledging conference in Geneva aimed at averting famine in Yemen.

But talks aimed at securing a pullout from Hodeidah by Iran-aligned Houthi forces holding the city and Saudi-led coalition forces appeared stalled again despite U.N. efforts to clear the way to wider negotiations on ending the conflict.

Western diplomats said an inspection of the grains stores in the port had been carried out but the warring sides still needed to agree on which road could be used to transport to transport supplies from the site to needy recipients.

Guterres said $2.6 billion has been pledged so far towards a U.N. appeal of $4.2 billion this year for Yemen, where 24 million people, or 80 percent of the population of the Arabian Peninsula nation, is in need of aid.

The WFP grain stores at the Red Sea Mills have more than 51,000 tonnes of wheat but have been cut off in the conflict zone for six months, putting the grains at risk of rotting.

A WFP team that went to the Red Mills premises took stock of how much grain remains and what has been damaged, WFP Yemen country director Stephen Anderson told Reuters.

“There is sufficient grain there for 3.7 million people for a month. Given that Yemen is the world’s worst humanitarian emergency right now, people desperately need this assistance,” Anderson told Reuters at the Geneva talks.

The WFP is now reaching about 10 million Yemenis per month with food aid and hopes to scale up to 12 million this year, but it is a complicated operation in war zones, he said.

“We are concentrated in particular on the 104 districts where there is a convergence of hunger, malnutrition and health and water problems,” said Anderson. Forty-five districts have “pockets of people facing catastrophic hunger”, he added.

Around 2 million Yemeni children are malnourished, 360,000 of whom were suffering from “severe acute malnutrition”, the life-threatening form, said Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF director for the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - who have led a bombing campaign against Houthis fighting the forces of Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi - each pledged $500 million in fresh funds at the Geneva conference.

Additional reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi in Dubai; editing by

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