Humanitarian assistance continues to prevent a massive human catastrophe in Yemen but it is not enough
As many as 20 million Yemenis are food insecure in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Already, 15.9 million people wake up hungry, according to the latest Integrated food security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis which was released by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and humanitarian partners.
“What the IPC tells us is alarming,” said Lise Grande, Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen. “65,000 people are barely surviving right now and at least a quarter of a million people are facing a bleak year. Any change in their circumstances, including any disruption in their ability to access food on a regular basis will bring them to the brink of death.”
Conflict remains the major driver of food insecurity. Loss of livelihoods and income and increases in the price of basic commodities are also contributing factors, reducing the ability of families to purchase food. Unpredictable fluctuations in the exchange rate and credit restrictions have impacted imports. The collapse of public services and social safety nets and the erosion of coping mechanisms have made millions of Yemenis more vulnerable to shocks.
“Agriculture and livelihood support are a critical part of the humanitarian response in Yemen. Prior to the escalation of violence, 73% of the population relied on agriculture and fisheries for their livelihoods. FAO is not only working to enable families to produce food for themselves and their communities when markets are disrupted but also to safeguard, protect and restore Yemen’s agriculture sector. For example, more than 1 million animals have been vaccinated and treated for pests and diseases. However, more funds are needed to support millions of Yemeni family farmers,” the FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said.
“In a war waged by adults, it is the country’s children who suffer first and suffer most,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “Thousands of Yemeni children could die from severe malnutrition if conditions, including conflict and economic crisis, do not improve soon. Warring parties must choose whether to end the fighting, and save lives, or fight on, and cause more children to die.”
“With the support of the international community, WFP is feeding nearly eight million people a month. If not for that, two-thirds of the population in Yemen would be facing horrific levels of hunger and starvation,” said WFP Executive Director David Beasley. “This report is an alarm bell that shows hunger is rising and we need a massive increase in aid and sustained access to all areas in Yemen in order to rescue millions of Yemenis. If we don’t, we will lose an entire generation of children to hunger.”
High rates of malnutrition among children
The level of acute malnutrition among children remains high. Across the country, 1.8 million children are acutely malnourished, including nearly 400,000 who suffer from the most severe form. Children with severe acute malnutrition are 11 times more at risk of death if not treated in time than a healthy child of the same age. The high levels of malnutrition are compounded by lack of food, poor child feeding practices at home, sub-optimal functioning of the health, water and sanitation systems, disease outbreaks and the deteriorating economy.
Price hikes put food out of reach
While markets are open, financial access to food remains of great concern. A large proportion of the population, even in more stable areas, cannot access basic food commodities because food prices have jumped by 150 percent compared to pre-crisis levels. Fuel prices, including gas for cooking, have also soared.
The agriculture sector has also been hit hard by the conflict and food production has slumped. Even with the prolonged crisis, agriculture remains the primary livelihood for three-quarters of the population. It is their only source of income and is critical to enabling them to access food on the markets. Agriculture and rural livelihoods are integral to the humanitarian response to support local food production, protect livelihoods and improve food security.
Even before the conflict, Yemen was prone to chronic food insecurity due to its reliance on imports for over 75 percent of its national food requirements, while 80 percent of Yemenis lived below the poverty line.
The largest humanitarian relief operation is underway in Yemen. As the food security situation deteriorates, WFP is rapidly scaling up its operations to reach as many as 12 million people every month with the food and nutrition assistance they so desperately need. Among these are some 3 million women and children who need special support to treat and prevent malnutrition.
FAO is helping over 5 million people to protect their livelihoods by providing crop and vegetable seeds, fishing gear, poultry production kits, vaccinations and treatments for livestock, and cash support in exchange for work on rehabilitating agricultural infrastructure.
Across Yemen, UNICEF has accelerated the implementation of specialized programmes in existing health facilities to prevent and treat severe acute malnutrition in children. This includes training staff and supplying facilities with essential equipment, specialized foods for severely malnourished children and medicines. So far in 2018, nearly 230,000 children have been treated for severe acute malnutrition.