Yemen: On the brink of famine
By: Lei Phyu
Yemen is one of four countries in the world currently facing the threat of famine. Over two years of continuous war have created the conditions for widespread hunger in the country of 27 million.
According to the latest UN data, almost 60 percent of Yemenis do not know where their next meal will come from, and 6.8 million people are in a state of acute malnutrition.
What led to this?
Even before the conflict erupted in early 2015, Yemen was one of the poorest countries in the Arab region.
Yemenis depended on imports for 90 percent of their staple foods such as wheat, rice and other cereal crops. Two years of war damaged ports, roads, bridges and led to food, medicine and fuel shortages.
Cut off from trade and income
A functioning and stable national banking system is vital in a country where 90 percent of staple foods are imported. The blocking of international financial transactions also led to a liquidity crisis for both US dollars and local currency.
As a result, civil servants and public sector workers who deliver critical social services, such as healthcare, have not been paid since August 2016. This undermines the humanitarian response but also severely affects individual purchasing power as 30 percent of Yemenis depend on government salaries and pensions.
Without income, families are unable to purchase food. More than half of Yemeni families are buying food on credit.
The average price of wheat flour was 32 percent higher in March 2017 compared to prices in March 2015.
Lack of work
Before the war, fish was Yemen’s second largest export and a key source of protein and energy for families. Naval activity and damage to ports, boats, power plants and processing factories have crippled Yemen’s fishing industry, mostly made up of family-owned businesses.
Two years of conflict has destroyed much of the industrial and manufacturing sector, including oil production which accounted for over half of Yemen’s exports in terms of GDP and employed many workers. In addition, 70 percent of Yemen’s small and medium businesses have laid off half of their workforce.
Even in areas free of armed violence, farmers struggle to address a nationwide food shortage because much of the land is covered in landmines and other unexploded hazards.
Three million Yemenis are currently displaced throughout the country, in need of work, safety, food, water and medical care.
What does UNDP do to help Yemenis in need?
We partner with sister UN organizations and the World Bank, with additional funding from donors such as the EU, Japan, the Netherlands, and the United States, to help people get back to work and become self-sufficient again. Our cash-for-work activities, worth US$342 million, aim to restore purchasing power and inject cash into the local economy.
We’re tearing down roadblocks to improve provision of food, water and health
In 2016, we cleared over three million square metres of mines and other explosives, freeing up land for use. For the past two years, we helped Yemenis to clear battle debris, restore roads, repair trucks and rebuild critical infrastructure to connect farmers, food and water to people.
We’re getting cash assistance to the most affected women and families, and helping farmers, fishermen and livestock producers restore food supplies.
Yemenis will see 270,000 more businesses focusing on agriculture and fisheries, as well as an increase in health care providers.
Over 2.5 million people will see better access to lifesaving water between now and 2018.
For the next two years, our Cash for Work activities will continue to create short term jobs for 410,000 Yemenis.
Healthcare where demand is strongest
Half of Yemen’s medical facilities are no longer functioning, so we’re training local young people as health and sanitation promoters.
Since the onset of the conflict, we’ve been training midwives and nurses so they can save lives when pockets of fighting isolate the injured from healthcare workers and clinics.
Sustainable funding is vital for us to continue our work to save lives in countries like Yemen.