GENEVA (Reuters) – Operations at Yemen’s lifeline port of Hodeidah have nearly halved in two weeks, with shipping companies deterred by insecurity in the flashpoint Houthi-held city, the U.N.‘s World Food Programme (WFP) said on Tuesday.
A Saudi-led Arab coalition is fighting to oust the Iran-backed Houthi movement that has taken over most of northern Yemen, including the capital Sanaa, and restore President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to full control.
As 70 percent of imports come in through the vital Hodeidah port, a drop in the arrival of wheat and other supplies would affect food stocks in Yemen where 14 million people are facing possible starvation after nearly four years of war, WFP said.
“WFP is very concerned about a nearly 50 percent decrease in operations at Hodeidah port over last two weeks,” spokesman Herve Verhoosel said told a Geneva news briefing.
“Shipping companies appear to be reluctant to call to Hodeidah port because of the high levels of insecurity in the city,” he said.
The WFP, which provides rations to eight million Yemenis each month, has been trying to scale up to avert famine. It has two more months worth of food stocks in the impoverished country, Verhoosel said.
“Any disruptions to the port operations would hamper humanitarian efforts to prevent famine as well as increase food prices in markets even further, making it extremely difficult for the majority of Yemenis to feed their families,” he said.
On Monday a single vessel was at Hodeidah port, which was “not normal” for a port whose current offloading capacity is for seven vessels, he said, adding: “We need to reassure the private sector to say ‘come back to the port’.
U.N. envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths, who was in Riyadh on Monday, is seeking a U.N. role in supervising the port and continues his consultations ahead of peace talks planned in Sweden next month, U.N. spokesman Rheal LeBlanc said.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, Editing by William Maclean)