4 Things You Need to Know About Averting Famine in Yemen

The humanitarian situation in Yemen continues on a downward spiral, and the risk of famine inches closer to reality.

Ongoing conflict has left Yemen facing the world’s largest humanitarian crisis and food security emergency. Nearly 76 percent of the country needs aid to survive, and the situation is only getting worse. A new report shows that 15.9 million people are at experiencing severe acute food insecurity. Without humanitarian aid, the report estimates that this number would be more than 20 million people.

Wanisa, a young mother in Hudaydah, already lost one daughter. While waiting for her 7-month-old daughter to receive treatment, she told our partner, the World Health Organization, “I cannot endure losing my other child. I’m doing everything I can to save her life.”

The United States is one of the world’s leading donors of humanitarian assistance for the Yemen response, providing more than $697 million in aid since October 2017. For more than three years, USAID and its partners have been fighting to prevent famine and provide people with life-saving assistance. Here’s what you need to know about what USAID is doing to stop famine from happening:

1. We don’t wait for a famine to help people.

Famine is the most extreme classification on an internationally recognized food security scale. For famine to be declared, very specific, technical criteria must be met. Once a famine occurs, people are already starving and many have died. It’s really rare.

But, just because a famine wasn’t formally declared, doesn’t mean everything is okay. In Yemen, millions of people are skipping meals so they can feed their children, or have sold everything they have to try to make ends meet. This is why USAID starts providing aid long before famine becomes a possibility.

2. Food alone cannot solve a food crisis.

Thinking of food as the antidote to famine seems logical, and it’s definitely a critical part of USAID’s response efforts. However, responding to a food crisis is more complicated than that. It actually involves a couple of things, including:

  • Delivering Food: Each month, USAID-supported programs feed more than 7 million people in the areas at greatest risk of famine. This includes wheat, beans, and peas that are grown by American farmers and shipped to Yemen, as well as locally or regionally produced food.
  • Treating Malnutrition: Without enough food and adequate nutrition, children can easily become malnourished — which is what happened to more than two million children in Yemen. This increases their risk of disease and death and can have a life-long impact on their development. USAID provides nutrient-dense pastes, high-energy biscuits, and nutrition and medical services to help kids recover, grow, and thrive.
  • Providing Medical Care: Preventable disease is a leading cause of death during a food crisis, but only half of Yemen’s health facilities are fully operational and more than 16 million people are unable to access even basic health care. USAID is training health care workers, providing medical supplies, and supporting hospitals, clinics, and mobile health teams.
  • Preventing Disease: Everyday things that many of us do to avoid illness — like drinking non-contaminated water and washing our hands — are even more important during a disaster. But the fighting has destroyed or damaged much of the water supply. USAID is working with partners to provide safe drinking water, distribute soap and hygiene supplies, and help educate communities about the huge impact of handwashing.

3. Humanitarians must be able to reach people to help them.

A lot of the fighting is happening in Hudaydah, where the country’s main port is located. It’s how most of Yemen’s food, fuel, and medicine come through. But port closures and the ongoing violence delay deliveries and make shippers reluctant to use the port all together. If the economic situation worsens and humanitarian aid and commercial goods can no longer reach the people who need them, famine will occur.

4. A political solution to the crisis must be found.

Conflict is the biggest driver of humanitarian needs in Yemen. Only a peaceful resolution to the crisis can put an end to the suffering.

USAID is committed to helping the people of Yemen, especially the next generation. Children make up half of the total number of people in need.

With our partners, USAID is not only helping these children feel like kids — even in a war zone — we’re also working with them to give them the tools and knowledge to become self-reliant and a force for change within their own communities. After all, one could argue that they are Yemen’s biggest hope for a better future.

Read more about USAID’s humanitarian efforts in Yemen.

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