Last week cargo ships carrying food were prevented from entering Yemeni waters, as Saudi-led forces searched the vessels for weapons, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). At the same time, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned of the probable failure of Yemen’s crops.
Last week Bloomberg reported grain silos in the port of Aden had come under attack, following attempts by Houthi snipers to use the structures as bases. The Houthi forces, backed by Iran, are fighting against soldiers loyal to ousted President Abdurabuh Mansur Hadi, as well as a Saudi-led coalition.
Population already weak
“The escalation of conflict came at a bad time for Yemen, and the population of Yemen, particularly. Already there was the deterioration of livelihoods for some time, and now this is coming at a time when the people are already weak, and a lot of people are depending on humanitarian assistance,” said FAO senior economist Shukri Ahmed.
“Yemen is a country that depends on imports for most of its basic food commodities – that now has been disrupted. Roads, transport, ports are now affected. This is directly impacting on the population’s access to food, and this is a very worrying situation, coming at a time when we are expecting the agricultural situation… whatever the country is producing, is actually also being affected so much,” he added.
Although Yemen, like other Gulf countries, imports around 90% of its food, Ahmed said domestic production accounted for most of the country’s vegetables, and this was likely to be severely disrupted. He noted that more than 16 million Yemenis are currently dependent on humanitarian aid, while other FAO figures suggest 10.6 million people are food insecure, with 4.8 million facing “emergency conditions”.
Late last month the Yemen Company for Flour Mills and Silos told Reuters the port of Aden was not operational and that the company’s imports had stopped. The news agency also reported an explosion at a dairy factory in Houthi-controlled Hodaida port killed 25 people and halted production – although a Hodaida-based sugar producer said its facilities were still operational.
FAO officials said while the Yemeni government may have significant food reserves, potentially enough to last six months, internal disruption and destruction of transport infrastructure would make distribution of food reserves extremely difficult, and push up prices.