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For Yemen it’s Bread, Fuel or Chaos

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Food prices are skyrocketing in Yemen. Yemeni families are being forced to skip meals or divert money from health care just to afford bread. As the New York Times reported this week, shortages of fuel, water and other basics have placed even more stress on Yemenis.

To make the situation even worse, the UN World Food Programme’s (WFP) Yemen mission is facing massive funding shortages. This is an agency that depends entirely on voluntary contributions from governments and the public.

WFP, in a press release issued today, said: “Yemen is entering a serious humanitarian crisis. UN presence in the country is essential, both to provide relief during the ongoing political and economic emergency, as well as to ensure operational continuity.”

This crisis unfolds on many fronts. You have an already impoverished population that would need support even if there were no political unrest and resulting fallout. Years of conflict between the government and rebels in Northern Yemen left people in that area struggling to rebuild their lives. Their reconstruction now is even more difficult.

A 2010 photo showing Damage in Sa’ada City in Northern Yemen from the fighting between the government and rebels (Aysha Twose/Save the Children)

In the North, WFP is planning to feed 416,800 IDPs and war-affected persons, including 119,100 children under five who will receive nutritional support. Children under five who do not receive proper nutrition can suffer severe and lasting mental and physical damage.

WFP says it’s short almost $34 million for its “Food Assistance to Conflict-Affected Persons in Northern Yemen” program.  In addition, “personnel transport and dispatching has been hampered by the widespread lack of fuel” in the area. 

UNICEF is also providing aid to the war victims in Northern Yemen, including Plumpy’nut for malnourished children.  UNICEF Yemen’s director Geert Cappeleare says: “There is definitely a new window of opportunity for providing assistance in areas which have been for some time inaccessible.”

In Southern Yemen, recent fighting in Zinjibar and other areas between the government and suspected Al Qaeda militants has caused displacement and hunger for tens of thousands. Many Yemenis have fled to the southern port city of Aden. WFP says as of this week it began distributing food rations to over 2500 families and preparing for more arrivals.

Country-wide hunger relief missions have suffered because of lack of funding. A safety net operation WFP started cannot reach all the hungry in Yemen. Even a WFP school feeding program has been suspended entirely.

The political unrest is bad enough for Yemenis. Now a growing humanitarian crisis will add to this recipe for chaos and produce the type of scenario Al Qaeda wants.

WFP said today: “On 27 June 2011, approximately 200 IDPs (internally displaced persons) in the north-western district of Harrad staged a demonstration to protest delays in food distribution.” Although that particular situation returned to normal, it is a dire warning of what might be coming.

The international community needs to focus more on what the people of Yemen need: and that starts with basics of food, water, fuel. Without these foundations, there is no chance any policy toward Yemen will have a favorable outcome.

A promising opportunity awaits for this coming September as UNICEF is planning a major Back to School Campaign in Yemen. Combined with a restart and expansion of school feeding this may be, in the long-run, the most important step the country takes.

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About William Lambers

William Lambers is the author of several books including Ending World Hunger: School Lunches for Kids Around the World. This book features over 50 interviews with officials from the UN World Food Programme and other charities discussing school feeding programs that fight child hunger. He is also the author of Nuclear Weapons, The Road to Peace: From the Disarming of the Great Lakes to the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Open Skies for Peace, The Spirit of the Marshall Plan: Taking Action Against World Hunger, School Lunches for Kids Around the World, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, From War to Peace and the Battle of Britain. He is also a writer for the History News Service. His articles have been published by newspapers including the Cincinnati Enquirer, Des Moines Register, the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Buffalo News, San Diego Union Tribune, the Providence Journal, Free Lance-Star (VA), the Bakersfield Californian, the Washington Post, Miami Herald (FL), Chicago Sun-Times, the Patriot Ledger (MA), Charleston Sunday Gazette Mail (WV), the Cincinnati Post, Salt Lake Tribune (UT), North Adams Transcript (MA), Wichita Eagle (KS), Monterey Herald (CA), Athens Banner-Herald (GA) and the Duluth News Journal. His articles also appear on History News Network (HNN) and Think Africa Press. Mr. Lambers is a graduate of the College of Mount St. Joseph in Ohio with degrees in Liberal Arts (BA) and Organizational Leadership (MS). He is also a member of the Feeding America Blogger Council.