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Yemen government calls on Houthis to release wheat

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden

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Workers unload wheat assistance provided by UNICEF from a cargo ship at the Red Sea port of al-Hodeidah on January 27th. [Abdo Hyder/AFP]

Yemen’s government has demanded the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) release UN World Food Programme (WFP) wheat stocks they are holding in al-Hodeidah province, accusing them of "aggravating Yemenis’ suffering".

Yemeni minister of local administration and head of the Supreme Relief Committee Abdul Raqeeb Fateh has urged UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator in Yemen Lise Grande to pressure the Houthis to release 51,000 tonnes of wheat.

The WFP has said its staff have been denied access to the wheat stocks.

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In this file photo taken on October 6th, a Yemeni man carries his child, who is suffering from malnutrition, into a treatment centre at a hospital in Sanaa. [Mohammed Huwais/AFP]

"The detained wheat stocks are enough to feed some 3.7 million in central and northern Yemen for one month," said WFP spokesman Herve Verhoosel.

"The Houthis must immediately release these stocks and stop operations related to [disrupting] the humanitarian and relief efforts," Fateh told local media.

The Houthis have contributed to the deterioration of the humanitarian situation "by detaining relief convoys, looting humanitarian aid and hindering the operations of local and international relief organisations", he said.

Fateh urged the UN and international community to condemn the continued disruption of relief operations, which directly impacts the lives of Yemenis.

Diverting humanitarian aid

The Houthis have been diverting aid intended for the Yemeni people since the beginning of war, political analyst Khaled Ahmed told Al-Mashareq.

"They often hold humanitarian assistance, including even that provided by local humanitarian organisations," he said, noting that these actions "aggravate the suffering of the needy".

Four years of war have pushed Yemen to the brink of mass starvation, AFP reported Sunday (October 28th).

The UN last week warned that 14 million Yemenis are at serious risk of famine, as the war shows no sign of waning.

Mark Lowcock, the UN's humanitarian chief, said Monday the danger of famine in Yemen is "much bigger than anything any professional in this field has seen during their working lives".

The UN this month called for a humanitarian ceasefire around facilities involved in food aid distribution, but neither side has heeded the call.

Hunger a result of the war

Yemenis struggling to survive such conditions are also confronted with a collapsed economy, leaving government employees and teachers without pay.

The International Monetary Fund expects Yemen's economy will contract by 2.6% in 2018, while inflation is forecast to hit 42%.

Hunger in Yemen is a direct result of war, the WFP said in a Monday report.

The war has destroyed infrastructure and the economy, and prevented humanitarian assistance from reaching the people who need it most, it said.

"Soaring food prices has made the cost of a meal out of reach for most -- one simple meal is 36% of an average Yemeni’s daily income. Violence is ongoing and could soon push the nation into full-fledged famine," the report added.

"Families are struggling to survive. People have little to no income. Many children are not in school. Evidence of hunger is everywhere. In many places, women are begging on the road -- often mothers desperate for money to feed their children. And children are dying," the report said.

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