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DUBAI (Reuters) - Four mobile cranes have arrived in Houthi-controlled Hodeidah port, the United Nations said on Monday, after a Saudi-led coalition agreed to let them into Yemen, where nearly three years of war have pushed the country to the verge of famine.
The U.S.-funded equipment will help replace four giant cranes disabled by coalition warplanes in an August 2015 raid that drastically slowed the unloading of food, medicine and fuel needed by a population riven with hunger and disease.
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said in a statement that a ship carrying the cranes it bought with funds from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) had arrived in Yemen’s Hodeidah Port and were expected to be operational immediately.
"With each of the mobile cranes able to handle up to 60 tons, they will significantly boost the discharge of humanitarian cargo and other relief items," the statement said.
The WFP said Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates facilitated the transfer of the cranes aboard the WFP-chartered vessel MV JUIST to Yemen.
The Arab coalition, under international pressure, eased a three-week blockade which was imposed on Yemeni ports and airports in November in response to a ballistic missile fired by the Houthis towards the Saudi capital Riyadh.
Although the missile was shot down, the incident rattled the kingdom.
The cranes are expected to help ease a humanitarian crisis ravaging Yemen since its war began in 2015. Before the conflict, Hodeidah port handled around 70 percent of Yemen's imports, including critically-needed food and humanitarian supplies.
The Norwegian Refugee Council said the 30-day extension, expiring on Jan. 19, was causing anxiety in Yemen and outside.
"What looked on paper to be a good policy for easing the blockade has done very little to lower prices of essential daily items like fuel and food," said Mutasim Hamdan, the NRC’s Yemen director.
"The instability caused by the coalition's arbitrary policies, closing ports one day and reopening them on another, is making problems worse for the Yemeni population," he said.
He added that "shipping companies, importers and vendors are left without assurance that the port will remain open, and this is serving to sustain inflation that makes food unaffordable for most Yemeni people."
The conflict, which intensified after the Iran-aligned Houthis marched towards the southern Yemeni port city of Aden, forcing President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi into exile, has killed more than 10,000 people and crippled Yemen's economy.
The United Nations says that more than 22 million of Yemen's 25 million population need humanitarian assistance, including 11.3 million who are in acute need – an increase of more than one million people since March 2017.
(Reporting by Tom Miles, writing by Sami Aboudi, editing by William Maclean)