Human Rights

Yemen on brink of 'unprecedented' famine

By Faisal Darem in Sanaa


A Yemeni woman with her son panhandle for money on a sidewalk in Sanaa. [Faisal Darem/Al-Mashareq]

Food supplies in Yemen are at an all time low and the country is facing an "unprecedented famine", the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) warned last week.

"I am shocked to my bones by what I have seen and heard here in war- and hunger- stricken Yemen," NRC secretary general Jan Egeland said on May 3rd, following a five day visit to Sanaa, Aden and Omran.

Commercial food imports have reached an all-time low, driving the price of basic commodities to rise by a third on average, the NRC said, leaving 60% of the population food insecure.

Nearly seven million do not know where their next meal will come from.

"It is not a drought that is at fault," Egeland said. "This preventable catastrophe is man-made from A to Z."

The NRC appealed to all parties to the conflict to agree to a ceasefire, engage in serious peace talks and allow urgent aid to reach the 19 million Yemenis in need, and called for additional funding for humanitarian efforts.

Increased funding needed

Last month, humanitarian efforts led by the World Food Programme (WFP) could only afford to feed three of the seven million Yemenis on the brink of famine, Egeland said.

The WFP issued a report in April on the state of food insecurity in Yemen, based on the recent Emergency Food Security and Nutrition Assessment (EFSNA), the first nation-wide household survey conducted since the escalation of conflict.

The assessment was jointly conducted by the WFP, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Yemen Food Security and Agriculture Cluster (FSAC), in partnership with Yemeni authorities.

It reveals that an estimated 17 million, 60% of the total Yemeni population, are food insecure and require urgent humanitarian assistance.

Of these, approximately 10.2 million are in crisis and 6.8 million are in the emergency phase, according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), an international standard that classifies the severity and magnitude of food insecurity.

Nationwide, the population in the crisis or emergency phases has increased by 20%, compared to the results of the June 2016 IPC analysis, the report said.

The assessment also revealed that 20 out of 22 governorates are now at the emergency and crisis levels for food security, and that more than two thirds face starvation and urgently need aid to save their lives and protect their livelihoods.

Food security is at stake

"Food security in Yemen is at the crisis and emergency phases due to deteriorating economic conditions," economist Abdul Jalil Hassan told Al-Mashareq.

Lower public spending, particularly on government employee salaries, and the associated cash flow crisis, coupled with the depreciation of the Yemeni riyal have negatively impacted people’s ability to provide food for their families, he said.

"This requires the international community to come together to broker peace and end the war," he added.

International aid organisations have been working to alleviate the suffering of Yemenis, but food security remains at stake, said Deputy Minister of Planning and International Co-operation Mohammed al-Masuri.

"No matter how much support international organisations receive from donors, they [alone] cannot provide food security for Yemenis," he told Al-Mashareq.

The ministry is doing its best to communicate with international aid organisations and offer them logistical support, despite the challenges, he said.

It is also working to provide up-to-date databases on food security based on standard international practices in order to mobilise support, he added.

Deteriorating health conditions

Up to 80% of the population is facing the risk of starvation, Ministry of Health spokesman Abdul Hakim al-Kahlani told Al-Mashareq.

Malnutrition makes the population more vulnerable to epidemic diseases such as cholera, dengue fever and malaria, he warned, calling on international organisations to help support Yemen’s health sector.

Many medical facilities have ceased operation over the last two years due to recurring power outages, shortage of oil products or because electricity generators have not been maintained, he said.

"There are 412 health facilities that have been either partially or completely destroyed, which affects provision of health services and further impacts the humanitarian situation," he said.

Al-Kahlani stressed the need for health institutions to be impartial when it comes to the conflict and war.

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If these are the conditions of Yemenis themselves, how then is the suffering of refugees in Yemen!