UN reveals scale of Yemeni food crisis after years of war

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food and agriculture organization

© iStock
© iStock
Seventeen million Yemenis face “crisis” levels of food insecurity, according to the latest United Nations humanitarian analysis of their war-ravaged country.

All but two of Yemen's 22 governorates are in at least the “emergency​” phase of food insecurity, the study found. Almost two-thirds of Yemenis now urgently require life- and livelihood-saving assistance, the UN said.  

Without additional humanitarian and livelihoods support, Taiz and Al Hudaydah, two governorates accounting for almost a quarter of the population, risk slipping into famine, it added.

According to the UN’s recently released Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) Yemen is in the midst of one of the world’s worst hunger crises. 

Almost 80% of households report being worse-off than before the crisis. Their situation has been exacerbated by shortfalls in domestic production, disruptions to commercial and humanitarian imports and increasing food and fuel prices. 

At the same time, Yemen faces rampant unemployment, poverty and the collapse of public services, while the UN believes that “relatively low levels of funding for UN agencies providing food assistance” will also contribute to a further worsening of food security.

Taiz and Al Hudaydah, both traditionally food producing governorates, have been the focus of intense violence in the two years since the current crisis escalated.

THey now have the highest rates of global acute malnutrition in the country, ranging from 17% in Taiz City to 25% in Al Hudaydah. The emergency threshold set by the World Health Organization is 15%.

"The conflict has a devastating impact on agricultural livelihoods. Crop and livestock production fell significantly compared to pre-crisis levels​," said Salah Hajj Hassan, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation representative in Yemen. 

"It is absolutely essential that the humanitarian response encompass food and agriculture assistance to save not only lives but also livelihoods​."

Stephen Anderson, the World Food Programme’s representative and country director there, said Yemen has been seeing historically high levels of acute malnutrition. 

Of the 2.2m children suffering from acute malnutrition, 462,000 are ‘severely and acutely malnourished’ [SAM]​,” he said. 

Meritxell Relaño, UNICEF Representative, added: “To put things in perspective, a SAM child is 10 times more at risk of death if not treated on time than a healthy child his or her age​. 

The ongoing conflict and food insecurity will have long-term implications on the health and overall development of children in Yemen​."

Fighting along the Red Sea coast in recent months has caused extensive damage to Yemen's largest port, Al Hudaydah. This has disrupted imports, which account for 90% of Yemen's staple foods. 

Access restrictions and the loss of boats, nets and other gear, have wiped out fishing—an important source of food and income. 

Insecurity along the coast will likely affect the start of the planting season in April for sorghum, the most important domestically produced cereal. Moreover it will hamper trade, force more people to leave their homes, further limit the availability of food and disrupt livelihoods.

Across Yemen as many as 2m households engaged in agriculture now lack access to critical inputs, including seeds, fertiliser and fuel for irrigation pumps. High fuel prices also make irrigation prohibitively expensive.

Because of insecurity, humanitarian access may be soon limited to a few kilometres around main towns, leaving rural communities in dire need of aid, the UN’s latest assessment says.

It has also reiterated its appeal for the various sides involved in the conflict to to allow humanitarian organisations unconditional and sustained access to help those in greatest need.

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