GENEVA - The World Food Program says reopening the Yemeni Port of Hodeida is crucial in efforts to stave off famine in that country, which has been at war for more than three years. The United Nations warns some 14 million people are on the verge of starvation in Yemen.
Yemen imports 90 percent of its food, with 70 percent arriving at the port of Hodeida. Yemen's warring parties agreed to a province-wide cease-fire in Hodeida at U.N.-mediated talks in Sweden. Unfortunately, fighting broke out Friday on the outskirts of the port, a day after the truce was adopted, putting the reopening of the port in doubt.
The World Food Program reports it is critical to both humanitarian operations and to the commercial sector that the agreement be salvaged. It says the port of Hodeida is the principle lifeline for two-thirds of the country.
WFP spokesman, Herve Verhoosel, says the free flow of commercial food supplies into Yemen should prevent further increases in food prices, which have skyrocketed, making food unaffordable for millions.
"In Yemen, 20 million people today rely on the private market," said Verhoosel. "They buy their food in the street, in the market ... And we hope that when the port will again work at normal capacity, more food will come on the private market and potentially the price of that food for those millions of people who buy it will not go up anymore."
Last year, WFP was providing 3.5 million Yemenis with food rations every month. The number of beneficiaries has more than doubled over the past two years. Since August, the agency has been assisting seven to 8 million people a month.
Verhoosel says WFP is scaling up its operations to reach 10 million of the most vulnerable people in Yemen this month, with plans to reach up to 12 million in the New Year.
He says special attention will be given to increasing nutrition for severely malnourished children, and for pregnant and breastfeeding women. He says they are most at risk of famine and death.