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Urgently Needed Cranes Reach Yemen Port


FILE - Cranes, damaged by airstrikes, are seen at the container terminal of the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, Yemen, Nov. 26, 2017.

The United Nations says four mobile cranes urgently needed to unload cargo and humanitarian aid have arrived at a central seaport in hunger-wracked Yemen.

"Hodeidah Port is a humanitarian lifeline for millions who are on the brink of famine," World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley said in a statement Monday. "We are committed to doing whatever it takes to ensure a consistent flow of life-saving food and supplies to the country."

The U.S. Agency for International Development paid for the cranes. USAID head Mark Green said they should cut the time it takes to unload ships from one week to as little as three days, "which means food, medicine and other necessities will reach people more quickly."

FILE - Workers unload aid shipments of wheat from St. George ship, at the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, Yemen, Nov. 30, 2017.
FILE - Workers unload aid shipments of wheat from St. George ship, at the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, Yemen, Nov. 30, 2017.

The Red Sea port is controlled by the Saudi-led coalition that has been locked in armed conflict with Iranian-backed Houthi rebels since March 2015. Hodeidah handles about 70 percent of the country's imports, including both commercial and humanitarian cargo.

The coalition imposed an air, land and sea blockade on Yemen in early November, to prevent weapons from reaching the rebels. Intensive international pressure led the coalition to say on December 20 that it would allow supplies into the Red Sea ports of Hodeidah and Saleef for one month.

The United Nations says as of last Friday, 13 ships have delivered food and fuel through the two ports, with more deliveries anticipated.

Yemen imports about 90 percent of its food and nearly all its fuel and medicine.

The World Food Program said the four mobile cranes will be operational immediately. Each one can handle up to 60 tons, which will significantly boost aid efforts.

"To avert even greater catastrophe, WFP needs better access and smooth, timely clearance of shipments," Beasley added.

More than 22 million Yemenis are in need of humanitarian assistance, including about 8 million people who are on the verge of famine. The country is also battling a cholera outbreak that has infected an estimated 1 million people.

"No one should ever have to live the way the people of Yemen are living," U.S. United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley said. "We call on all sides of the conflict to allow full access for humanitarian and commercial supplies, including fuel, by keeping the country's ports open and allowing humanitarian agencies to deliver aid without interference."

The Houthi rebels have come under strong international criticism for blocking and confiscating aid and restricting the movement of civilians and humanitarian workers in areas under their control.

President Donald Trump, among others, had demanded Saudi Arabia ease the blockade of Hodeidah, including allowing the cranes to be installed.

VOA's Kenneth Schwartz contributed to this report.