The UN is urging the warring parties in Yemen to give it access to a vast store of grain that is desperately needed in a country on the brink of famine.
Aid workers have not been able to reach the Red Sea Mills, on the frontlines in the port of Hudaydah, for five months.
It holds enough grain to feed 3.7 million people for a month, but the UN says it is now “at risk of rotting”.
The Yemeni government and the rebel Houthi movement agreed a ceasefire around Hudaydah in December.
But they have yet to implement a UN-brokered plan under which opposing fighters should be redeployed to locations outside the area.
Hudaydah, which has been controlled by the Houthis since 2014, is the principal lifeline for two-thirds of Yemen’s population. Up to 80% of the humanitarian aid, fuel and commercial goods on which they depend are delivered through the port.
On Monday, the UN’s special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, and Emergency Relief Co-ordinator, Mark Lowcock, warned that the urgency of getting access to the Red Sea Mills facility south of the port was “growing by the day”.
“The World Food Programme (WFP) grain stored in the mills – enough to feed 3.7 million people for a month – has been inaccessible for over five months and is at risk of rotting,” they said in a joint statement.
“At the same time, the United Nations is in the process of scaling up to provide food assistance to nearly 12 million people across Yemen who struggle to meet their daily food needs. Our main concern is for their survival and well-being.”
The UN officials emphasised that ensuring access to the mills was a “shared responsibility among the parties to the conflict in Yemen”.
Last week, the UN said Yemeni government and Houthi representatives had agreed a preliminary compromise that would allow them to proceed with the redeployment of forces from Hudaydah and the opening of humanitarian corridors.
The agreement came after talks on board a UN vessel in Hudaydah’s inner harbour attended by the new head of the UN’s monitoring mission, Gen Michael Anker Lollesgaard of Denmark.
Yemen has been devastated by a conflict that escalated in early 2015, when the Houthis forced President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi to flee abroad.
Alarmed by the rise of a group they saw as an Iranian proxy, Saudi Arabia and eight other Arab states intervened in an attempt to restore the government.
At least 6,800 civilians have been killed and 10,700 injured in the fighting, according to the UN. Thousands more civilians have died from preventable causes, including malnutrition, disease and poor health.