AMMAN – Two United Nations officials underlined on Monday the urgent need for safe, unfettered and sustained access to grain mills in a strategic port city in Yemen to avoid the rotting of the crops stored there, which they say is necessary for providing food assistance to nearly 12 million people across the Middle Eastern nation who are struggling for survival amid a brutal civil war.
The appeal was made by Martin Griffiths, the UN’s special envoy to Yemen, and the Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, according to a statement issued by Griffiths’ office in Amman.
“We emphasize that ensuring access to the mills is a shared responsibility among the parties to the conflict in Yemen. With safe, unfettered and sustained access, the United Nations can make this urgently-needed food available to people in need,” read the statement.
The so-called Red Sea mills in the port of Hodeidah – located some 220 kilometers (137 miles) to the east of the capital, Sana’a – were currently storing grain from the World Food Program that was enough to feed 3.7 million people for a month, Griffiths said.
The statement explained that the grain had been inaccessible for over five months and was at risk of rotting.
The UN has been attempting to ensure the implementation of a ceasefire in Hodeidah agreed between the warring pro-government troops and Houthi rebels in Sweden last December.
One of the key provisions in the deal refers to allowing access to the approximately 51,000 tons of wheat and equipment stored in the Red Sea mills.
“At the same time, the United Nations is in the process of scaling up to provide food assistance to nearly 12 million people across Yemen who struggle to meet their daily food needs,” the statement added. “Our main concern is for their survival and well-being.”
The statement said that the UN team was encouraged by the recent engagement of all sides aiming to create the necessary conditions for the team to reach the mills without delay.
The UN hailed the confirmation by the Houthis – who style themselves “Ansar Allah,” or “Helpers of God” – of their commitment to implement the Hodeidah agreement and their earlier efforts to reopen the road leading to the mills, which the organization said had been carried out under difficult and dangerous circumstances.
According to the UN, at least 13 million people are threatened by famine conditions in Yemen, where hunger is widespread.
The Arab nation has been locked in a profound political, economic and military crisis since the popular regional uprisings of 2011, after which the Iran-backed Houthi militias captured Sana’a in Sept. 2014 and expelled President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, who has the military support of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, among other partners.
The relentless bombing campaign by the anti-Houthi coalition has killed countless civilians, ravaged most of Yemen’s infrastructure and led to one of the world’s most pressing humanitarian catastrophes by pushing millions to the brink of starvation.