Ongoing conflict has created an imminent threat of famine in Yemen. According to the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), ten of Yemen’s 22 provinces ranked at “emergency” level – one step below famine.
According to the BBC, in September 2014, years of civil and sectarian strife reached a climax in Yemen. Houthi rebel forces took control of Yemen’s capital, Sana’a.
Last year, a coalition of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia began a military campaign to force the Houthis from power and reinstate President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
The ensuing chaos has enabled extremist groups, including al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, to infiltrate the country and carry out terrorist attacks.
Long-Standing Food Insecurity
Even before the fighting began, the country was importing over 90 percent of its food. Now, conflict has strained trade and access to goods.
According to the Business Insider, aid groups blame the current food crisis on a lack of access to Houthi-controlled ports caused by obstacles imposed by the Saudi-led coalition. Houthi forces have also been accused of intentionally disrupting supplies from reaching some communities.
The U.N. estimates that 19 million people lack access to clean water and 7.6 million are considered to be food insecure. The looming development of famine in Yemen threatens to increase these numbers.
Malnutrition has made children in particular more vulnerable to illness. Before the conflict, about 40,000 children under age five died from preventable diseases each year, UNICEF reports. However, the organization estimates that 10,000 more have succumbed to disease in the past year because of a lack of access to clean water, health care and acute malnutrition.
In spite of these figures, the U.N. reports that it has been able to provide aid in most areas of the country. Food and millions of vaccinations have been administered but according to the U.N., this has only addressed the “most urgent needs.”
New Voucher Program
Earlier this month, the WFP began distributing vouchers to assist people living in Sana’a. The program is expected to reach 1 million people across the country by the end of 2016 by increasing the speed of delivery for assistance to families as well as by focusing on accountability.
WFP Representative Purnima Kashyap stated, “Vouchers also boost the local economy as we work with local suppliers to provide food.” Each voucher provides a family of six with a month’s supply of wheat grain, vegetable oil, salt and sugar, as well as protein-rich Wheat Soya Blend.
The WFP is partnered with 13 other organizations in Yemen, including CARE International and Save the Children. CARE International has not only focused on providing food security but also in establishing community self-help and women’s empowerment. Save the Children has additionally advocated for the care and protection of children, mainly through education efforts.
UNICEF’s representative in Yemen, Julien Harneis, says the organization has appealed for $180 million to finance its programs in Yemen in 2016. So far UNICEF has received just 18 percent of that amount. As the U.N. pushes for another round of peace negotiations, additional attention and aid are required to prevent famine in Yemen and assist the estimated 80 percent of people in need of humanitarian aid.
– Taylor Resteghini