WASHINGTON (AP) — Four mobile cranes dispatched to Yemen have started unloading deliveries of humanitarian aid and commercial goods in Hodeidah, the United States said Friday, as the war-wracked nation faces the world's worst hunger crisis.
The cranes arrived in Yemen in mid-January after a Saudi-led coalition that has blockaded the port agreed to allow in the new cranes, which aid groups have described as crucial for easing the dire humanitarian crisis in the Arab world's poorest country. They took several weeks to be erected before becoming operational on Friday.
The cranes, capable of carrying about 60 tons each, were purchased by the U.N. World Food Program with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development. With the cranes in place, it will take half as long to unload ships carrying food, medicine and other critical supplies, USAID said.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert called it a "positive step" to address the humanitarian crisis but stressed that there is "much work ahead."
"An enduring solution to this conflict, and the desperate humanitarian situation, will not be reached militarily," Nauert said.
The World Food Program has said that more than 22 million people need aid in Yemen. An estimated 17.8 million Yemenis are considered "food insecure" and cannot predict where their next meal will come from, the U.N. has said.
The port at Hodeidah handles roughly 70 percent of Yemen's imports, but the area is controlled by Yemen's Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, who have been at war with the Saudi-led coalition for several years. In 2015, a Saudi-led airstrike destroyed cranes at the Red Sea port, and the coalition has maintained a blockade on Hodeidah and other Houthi-controlled ports, describing it as an effort to interdict weapons from reaching the Houthis.
In November, the coalition eased the blockade on Hodeidah, as criticism of Saudi Arabia mounted over the dire humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Rights group have said the Saudi-led military campaign has driven the humanitarian disaster, although Saudi Arabia has said it has spent nearly a billion dollars in aid to Yemen and plans to spend another $1.5 billion along with its partners.
The roughly 3-year-old civil war in Yemen has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced 2 million, sending the price of petrol, cooking gas and other necessities surging more than 200 percent. The war has also spawned an alarming cholera epidemic as the nation's health system collapses.
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