The UN World Food Programme (WFP) says that hunger is fast escalating in Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East. The UN agency today called for an expansion of its emergency safety net plan for vulnerable populations as “the food security situation is worsening for all Yemenis.”
Of all the turmoil facing Yemen, from Al Qaeda to political unrest, it is hunger which might topple the country.
A simple food item many of us take for granted—bread—is out of reach for many in Yemen. WFP says, “The price of bread in Yemen has increased by 50% since the beginning of February. Because many food insecure Yemenis already spend between 30-35% of their daily income on bread, rapidly inflating bread costs could have significant repercussions.”
Recent assessments have shown that families are being forced to skip meals or divert money from purchasing medicine, a dangerous downward trend for already impoverished Yemenis. Fuel shortages also grip the country.
WFP’s emergency “safety net” initiative, set up last year, was to distribute food rations to families in the 14 governorates most impacted by hunger. Low funding has limited the reach of the plan. Many of the needy are not able to receive the food, at a time when they need it more than ever.
With hunger gaining strength in Yemen, the hunger relief mission needs to be bolstered. This will include helping those suffering from the conflict in Southern Yemen between the government and suspected Al Qaeda militants.
Thousands have been forced from their homes, many of the internally displaced (IDPs) fleeing to the port city of Aden. WFP says as of June 21st it has “distributed rations to 1,667 IDP families in Aden, while distribution to a further 876 families has been scheduled to begin the same day.”
WFP reports it will cost over $2 million to feed the displaced in Aden for a period of seven months. Will the funding come through, considering the difficulty obtaining it for every relief mission for Yemen? There is an over $60 million shortage right now facing WFP Yemen 2011 operations.
Even before the recent months of unrest, this was a country deeply mired in hunger, malnutrition, and poverty. Years of conflict in Northern Yemen left hundreds of thousands displaced and they are in great need of humanitarian supplies and reconstruction efforts.
The U.S. strategy toward Yemen is not putting enough focus on fighting hunger, particularly the malnutrition facing children. This is a theme persistent in U.S. foreign policy as Food for Peace initiatives are not getting enough support.
Some members of Congress have even proposed practically eliminating these programs, which would greatly impact Yemen and other countries. There is also no food ambassador in place to coordinate the international cooperation, such as Herbert Hoover successfully did after the two world wars.
Who knows how long this period of political instability in Yemen will last? What we do know is that there is a whole generation of children in Yemen that needs support now, in the form of food and proper nutrition. If they do not get that, it does not matter who is in power; the children will suffer stunted growth in mind and body. No country’s outlook is favorable under such a scenario.