UNITED NATIONS - The United Nations' humanitarian chief Thursday called on Yemen's Houthi rebels to give aid workers access to unused grain that could feed nearly 4 million starving people.
The grain is stored in silos near the port city of Hodeida and is at risk of rotting.
"I am deeply concerned that the United Nations has been unable to access the Red Sea Mills in Hodeida since September 2018," Mark Lowcock said in a statement. "Enough grain to feed 3.7 million people for a month has sat unused and possibly spoiling in silos at the mills for more than four months, while nearly 10 million people across the country remain just a step away from famine."
In November, the Saudi-led coalition took back the area where the Red Sea Mills is located in one of its last offensives against the Houthis before talks in Stockholm led to a fragile cease-fire for the Hodeida area. But the Houthis control the access route to the silos, and Lowcock said their forces have refused to let the U.N. cross the frontlines to reach the mills.
The World Food Program had some 51,000 metric tons of wheat stored there.
"I implore all parties, in particular Ansar Allah-affiliated groups, to finalize an agreement and facilitate access to the mills in the coming days," Lowcock said, referring to the Houthis by their formal name.
Last month, two of the silos were hit by rebel mortars. Lowcock said some of the grain was destroyed, probably enough to feed hundreds of thousands of people.
"These events are to be deplored," he said.
The U.N. has been working for months to prevent a famine taking hold in the war-torn country. More than 24 million people — 80 percent of all Yemenis — need humanitarian assistance. They include nearly 10 million people who are on the brink of famine. Yemen is currently the world's largest humanitarian disaster.
The World Food Program provides assistance to nearly 10 million Yemenis each month and is scaling-up operations to reach 12 million.
Meanwhile, the United Nations said talks continue aboard one of its ships in Hodeida harbor to resolve outstanding issues related to the mutual redeployment of forces away from the city and the opening of humanitarian corridors as called for in the Stockholm agreement.
"A preliminary compromise was agreed, pending further consultation by the parties with their respective leaders," U.N. Spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters Thursday.
Separate discussions being held in the Jordanian capital, Amman, on an exchange of as many as 8,000 prisoners from each side also are continuing.