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Yemen Nears Breaking Point, Humanitarian Crisis Could Worsen

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As fighting intensifies in Yemen’s capital of Sanaa, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has been forced to limit hunger relief operations in that area. The United Nations is evacuating some of its staff from Sanaa.

WFP is carrying on its relief operations in other parts of Yemen, a country with one of the highest rates of hunger and malnutrition in the world. The WFP mission is plagued by a lack of funding and an inability to reach all of the needy. WFP relies on voluntary funding from governments and the public.

What started earlier this year in Yemen with peaceful demonstrators seeking freedom from a corrupt President has now evolved into a shootout between rival factions seeking to gain power. The fear now is that civil war could erupt in Yemen which will bring immense human suffering.

Millions of Yemenis are already deeply mired in hunger and poverty. Many are getting by on very little sustenance as it is. A civil war will push Yemen closer and closer to famine.

               
Aisha is an internally displaced Yemeni girl in Southern Yemen living in an elementary school. She is one of many Yemeni children who are suffering from hunger and displacement. WFP and other aid agencies need support in order to carry out child feeding and rehabilitation programs. (WFP/Abeer Etefa)

Yemenis have had to bear the brunt of years of internal strife and poverty. The World Food Programme currently is feeding displaced persons in Northern Yemen who suffered through years of conflict between the government and rebels. In Southern Yemen thousands have been displaced this year from fighting between the government and suspected Al Qaeda militants. WFP is feeding them as part of an emergency safety net operation which is intended to reach over 2 million Yemenis, although lack of funding has hampered this operation.

Throughout most of Yemen, families can barely afford bread as food prices are high. These prices have skyrocketed since protests against President Saleh began earlier this year.

Yemen needs a peaceful solution and fast. President Obama at the UN said yesterday, “In Yemen, men, women and children gather by the thousands in towns and city squares every day with the hope that their determination and spilled blood will prevail over a corrupt system. America supports those aspirations. We must work with Yemen’s neighbors and our partners around the world to seek a path that allows for a peaceful transition of power from President Saleh, and a movement to free and fair elections as soon as possible.”

Yemen also needs humanitarian aid and every effort must be made right now to ensure that it can flow.The international community has to stand by Yemen. This means full funding for World Food Programme and UNICEF operations. Food stocks have to be ensured.

UNICEF, which feeds malnourished children, needs to have a full supply of plumpy’nut food and medicines to reach all suffering children in Yemen. Tens of thousands of children die in Yemen each year from easily preventable causes. The situation could deteriorate even further.

About a week ago, there was at least some hope of a peaceful settlement and transition of power. There was a back-to-school campaign to be launched that UNICEF was promoting with Yemen’s ministry of education. This was a project full of hope that could build Yemen’s future. But then the fighting began.

UNICEF’s Yemen director Geert Cappelaere said earlier this week, “it is another sad day sitting behind a desk with heavy shooting in the background.”

To sign a petition supporting humanitarian relief in Yemen, visit CARE 2.

For the latest breaking news on the crisis, see the New York Times with Laura Kasinof reporting from Sanaa.

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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.