An embargo by the Saudi-led coalition on cargo ships entering Yemeni ports has seen food imports fall to less than 10% of their usual volume, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). But an acute shortage of fuel has meant existing supplies of food cannot be transported within the country.
“This conflict has displaced a lot of people - with the virtual cargo embargo, it has disrupted the Yemeni market, and both food and fuel have become very scarce in the country. Before the conflict started, already we had more than 10 million people who were food insecure, and with this embargo, the numbers have definitely increased. We find that many markets are without food, and where there is food, the prices are very high,” said Purnima Kashyap, Yemen country director for the UN World Food Programme.
Fuel shortages have become the most immediate problem, beyond the armed conflict itself. Along with hampering food transportation, a lack of fuel is causing problems for the country’s water supply, with water trucks and pumping stations unable to operate, putting many millions of Yemenis at risk of both food and water shortages.
“We had food in warehouses in Hudaydah and in Sana'a, but we did not have fuel to distribute it. In Hudaydah we've been able to bring in over 350,000 litres of fuel, which has allowed us to provide much-needed fuel for the trucks to transport the food that was already available,” said Kashyap.
In total WFP has brought in more than 420,000 litres of fuel since the conflict began, and has provided 65,000 litres to other aid organisations.
Needs have increased
According to Kashyap, WFP was able to provide food supplies to 1.3 million people in the first three weeks of May, with 400,000 helped during a five-day ceasefire. But this was substantially fewer than the 750,000 the organisation had hoped to reach during the pause in fighting, and it called on both sides to provide more frequent ceasefires to allow agencies to provide humanitarian assistance.
“The needs in the country have increased tremendously, and it is now important for all of us to work together to reach these communities,” she added.
In April the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation warned Yemen was facing a widespread crop failure as a result of the conflict, which started at a vulnerable time in the country’s agricultural cycle. Although Yemen relies on imports for 90% of its food, agriculture within the country provides livelihoods for around two-thirds of the population, according to FAO.