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Aid Begins To Filter Back Into Yemen, As Saudi-Led Blockade Eases

A ship carrying food aid docks at the port of the Yemeni coastal city of Hodeidah on Sunday.

Roughly three weeks into a blockade by a Saudi-led coalition, Yemeni ports of entry are beginning to see some desperately needed shipments of food and humanitarian aid.

A container ship stocked with 25,000 tons of wheat docked at the Red Sea port of Saleef on Monday — just one day after a ship carrying 5,500 tons of flour arrived at Hodeidah, another port held by the Houthi rebels whom the Saudis have been seeking to dislodge from Yemen.

And the "first plane landed in Sanaa [on Saturday morning] with humanitarian aid workers," World Food Programme regional spokeswoman Abeer Etefa told Reuters. Among this weekend's shipments were 1.9 million vaccines, according to UNICEF — a crucial influx for a country ravaged by more than 900,000 suspected cases of cholera.

UNICEF says those supplies are enough to vaccinate some 600,000 children.

Yet disease isn't the only danger. Earlier this month, Save the Children estimated that Yemen, which has been riven for years by civil war and a Saudi-led airstrike campaign, "would expect to see about 50,000 malnourished children under the age of five die from hunger or disease this year."

And that staggering number was calculated even before the Saudis implemented the blockade in retaliation for an attempted Houthi missile strike on a Riyadh airport. The Houthis, backed by predominantly Shiite Iran, have been fighting Yemen's internationally recognized government, which has been supported by the Sunni leaders in Saudi Arabia.

"With this blockade it's very difficult to get supplies, and it's very difficult to deliver those supplies to the health facilities or the clinics to people in need mainly because also there is no fuel," Rasha Muhrez, Save The Children's director of operations in Yemen, told Here & Now earlier this month. "If this blockade continues, then the humanitarian situation will continue to deteriorate, and unfortunately, we would be unable to save these people in need."

But the easing of the blockade has appeared to offer reason for hope, however glimmering.

Monday's shipment at Saleef alone will help "feed more than 1.8 million people for one month," Etefa said in a tweet announcing the arrival.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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