A Food Crisis Threatens One Out of Four Yemenis

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Yemen is suffering from a dire food shortage, adding to an already long list of economic challenges facing the country’s poor, writes Ibrahim Mahmoud. Relief groups may not be able to help enough since Ramadan has driven up prices even more.

As international humanitarian and relief organizations voiced their concerns about the food crisis in Yemen, which could unfold into a total catastrophe, poor Yemenis started the holy month of Ramadan hoping that the rich or foreign humanitarian institutions might reach out.

Yemeni government sources confirmed to Al-Hayat that there are several reasons for the deteriorating food supply situation. These include reduced agricultural production, an intensifying socio-political crisis, and dwindling financial resources. This comes in addition to the challenges posed by terrorism and demographic displacements within the country. All of these factors have contributed to an increase in unemployment and poverty rates.

Governmental officials called upon the international organizations that prepared reports on the Yemeni food crisis to collect funds as soon as possible and reach out to hungry families in several governorates. The officials allegedly expressed their concerns that the UN’s call to collect funds for Yemen’s food crisis went totally ignored. The officials also hoped that the next Yemen Donors Conference, which is scheduled to be held in Riyadh in early September, would make crucial decisions regarding the collection of financial resources that would be used to buy food for poor Yemenis. However, in spite of the international aid already available, Yemen’s bureaucracy and lack of urgency in taking critical measures might raise the number of hunger victims.

International reports showed that around 25% of Yemenis are in dire need of urgent food aid in order to stay alive. According to the World Food Program (WFP), 5,000 Yemenis need immediate foreign food aid, whereas another 5,000 people lack sufficient food resources and are at risk of falling prey to hunger given the continuous increase in food and oil prices. The Yemeni government has recognized the difficult economic situation and its inability to overcome the tribulations in a short amount of time.

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Yemen’s Weak Economy

The 2013-2014 program recently approved by the Yemeni cabinet, states that “Yemen’s economy is extremely weak. Even before the recent conflicts the government was unable to provide Yemenis with essential services.” The same program adds that only 42% of Yemenis have access to electricity and that only 35.2% of citizens have access to security, justice and local government services. Water and sanitation services reach only 26% and 16% of Yemenis respectively.

“The government has failed to pay officials their salaries and has been forced to adopt several austerity policies. Several of these had repercussions on the country’s development process and on living conditions. In fact, most projects of the public investment program have been suspended and oil subsidies have been reduced,” the government’s program noted.

According to a Yemeni government source, “52.9% of young Yemenis (15-24 years old) are unemployed, along with 44.4% of citizens between ages 25 to 59.” Educated people account for 25% of the unemployed, added the source.

In its program, the government confirmed that poverty rates were at a record high, and that 54.4% of Yemenis were considered under the poverty line in 2011. According to a WFP survey, food insecurity affected around 44.5% of people in 2011 compared to 32.1% in 2009. Consequently, the number of individuals unable to obtain sufficient food supplies increased to approximately 10 million by the end of that same year. Social protection programs and mechanisms have now become necessary for the poorest and most affected groups of people.

The Humanitarian Situation

Estimations indicate that 8 million people were affected by the deterioration of the economic situation in 2011. The most affected were those living in conflict-stricken regions, namely al-Hasaba, Souffan, the Bani al-Hareth district in the Amanat al-Assimah governorate, in the Arhab and Naham districts in Sanaa governorate, in Taaz, and in Abyan governorate, where a war was waged against al-Qaeda.

In 2011, 465,900 Yemenis were displaced. Moreover, the country’s crisis took its toll on 440,000 medium and small scale agricultural enterprises and led to 26,000 people emigrating from the country. In addition, the conflicts destroyed several important infrastructure facilities, both public and private. Around 2,526 buildings were destroyed in the Amanat al-Assimah governorate.

In collaboration with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung association (FES), the Economic and Social Development Research Center (ESDR) conducted a field study on Yemen’s economic priorities. Several teams participated in this study, which was conducted across four governorates: Amanat al-Assimah, Aden, Taaz and Hadramout. According to the survey, poverty and food security represents 95% of the country’s economic challenges. The next priorities are unemployment, economic stability, and primary services and infrastructure development.

The month of Ramadan is generally marked by a sharp increase in food prices, which makes life more difficult for the needy. Although the Ministry of Industry and Trade provided basic goods in markets, many complain that this surge in prices prevents them from satisfying their needs during Ramadan. Reports indicated that wheat and sugar prices “increased by 15%, and vegetables (mainly tomatoes) increased by 30%.”

In an effort to alleviate the effect of this increase in prices, several private and governmental institutions — namely the Yemen Economic Corporation (YEC) and the Charitable Social Reform Society (CSRS) — endeavor to apply pressure on the commodity market in order to satisfy the poor’s needs.

YEC’s Deputy General Director Mohamed al-Labboud stated, “A plan is being prepared to satisfy the needs of citizens and the armed and security forces during Ramadan.” He added that the YEC was providing food and other basic needs during Ramadan through its local branches which are situated in various governorates around the country. He said that foodstuffs were being offered at very competitive prices in order to satisfy the needs of Yemenis and limit the monopoly.

In addition, the CSRS has started implementing charitable Ramadan programs, which benefit more than 500,000 individuals and 200,000 families. The CSRS provides meals in mosques and stationary centers for the iftar [the breaking of the fast] in addition to food subsidies on items including wheat, rice, milk and oil. During the holy month, CSRS will be also distributing meat, dates, clothes and gifts to the needy.

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Found in: yemen, food, famine, economic, ali abdullah saleh
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