Central bank move hinders Yemen wheat imports, says UN

Central bank move hinders Yemen wheat imports, says UN
2 min read
18 December, 2016
Yemen's move to relocate its central bank to the southern port city of Aden has hampered its wheat imports, the UN said on Sunday, deeply affecting the region's starving nation.
Yemen relies heavily on food import [AFP]

Wheat imports into rebel-held areas of Yemen have become come under threat after the central bank moved from the capital, a UN official said Sunday.

War-torn Yemen is heavily dependent on food imports, but blockades and bombing of ports has hampered the ability to bring food into or around the country. It has led to cases of starvation with fears the situation could only get worse.

"Four major importers of wheat into this country have informed the authorities (in Sanaa) that as of January they will no longer be able to fulfil their obligations," said the UN humanitarian coordinator in Yemen.

"We know it is very difficult for these importers to get lines of credit on the open market," Jamie McGoldrick said, "because the central bank is no longer here in Sanaa".

In September, President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi relocated the central bank from the rebel-held capital to Aden, the temporary base of his government, after accusing the insurgents of running down Yemen's foreign reserves.

Even before a Saudi-led coalition launched airstrikes against the Houthi rebels in Yemen began in March 2015, the impoverished nation imported 90 percent of its food, and as much as 95 percent of its wheat, according to the UN.

McGoldrick also said the imports of goods and medicine had been hampered by slow off-loading due to damage at the rebel-held port of Hodeida on the Red Sea.

UN aid chief Stephen O'Brien said in October that "smashed cranes" at the port were hindering the entry of aid supplies to ease a deteriorating humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

The Houthis and troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh overran Sanaa in September 2014 and went on to seize other areas of the country, prompting the Saudi-led coalition to intervene militarily just a few months later.

A UN report released in August found that the rebels and their allies were diverting about $100 million a month from the central bank, and that its foreign reserves had dwindled to $1.3 billion from about $4 billion in November 2014.

The relocation of the bank has been a major blow to the rebels, forcing them to halt salary payments to state employees in the areas of the country they control. 

Virtually all of Yemen faces severe food shortages with seven million people in an "emergency" situation, UN agencies warned in June.