The New York Times is reporting that the United States now wants Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down. It is hoped these negotiations will lead to a peaceful resolution of the standoff between protesters and pro-Saleh forces.
The Times piece, written by Laura Kasinof and David Sanger, states: “Among Yemenis, there is a feeling that there is a race against the clock to resolve the political impasse before the country implodes.” For even if Saleh were to leave today, poverty, water shortages, Al Qaeda, internal conflict, hunger and malnutrition would not go with him.
One thing is certain. The U.S. and its partners need a new, more comprehensive approach to helping Yemen. One area of Yemen policy that has been long neglected regards food security. Many Yemenis struggle to get these basics.
The Times article mentions the recent escalation of food prices. Even before this spike, many Yemenis were spending as much as 30 percent of their monthly income just to buy bread.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has a plan to distribute emergency rations to about 1.8 million Yemenis to bring some relief. Now is the perfect time to unleash this initiative, when you have a country’s future hanging in the balance. Stability in any form right now is priceless.
However, there is such low funding for WFP that this emergency program is in doubt. WFP relies on voluntary funding from governments and the public. Another WFP program feeding 115,000 school children as well as families has had only one distribution since June 2009.
The international community would not have much trouble funding a food for peace initiative in Yemen. You have the World Food Programme, UNICEF, and others waiting to carry this out.
These food programs not only provide safety nets, but bolster education and work projects to build infrastructure. There are both short-term and long-term benefits from food aid programs.
Hungry people do not make for a smooth political process in any country. Policy makers everywhere had better not forget this in Yemen.