The year 2008 brought a "silent tsunami" of high food prices which struck across the globe. The World Food Programme's (WFP) school feeding initiative in Yemen was one of many programs that were victimized.
This program had provided take-home rations for about 115,000 girls. Salman Omer of WFP Yemen said that 80 percent of the girls failed to receive their full ration in 2008 because of these skyrocketing prices. WFP simply could not provide the same level of food. This was a serious setback since the rations helped impoverished families and provided an incentive for girls to attend school. But this was just the first blow. A much larger one awaited around the corner, the complete suspension of WFP Food for Education in Yemen.
In June 2009, because of low funding, WFP had to stop its Food for Education program. No distributions have occurred since that time. A valuable tool for fighting hunger and poverty, and promoting education was lost last June.
What's surprising about the whole situation is that Yemen itself is very much on the radar of the United States in terms of foreign policy, particularly when it comes to Al Qaida's presence there. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said earlier this year, "There is also an awareness on the part of both the United States and Yemen that our relationship cannot be just about the terrorists. As critical as that is to our security and our future and to the stability and unity of Yemen, the best way to really get at some of these underlying problems that exist is through an effective development strategy."
An effective development strategy calls for Food for Education. This April WFP hopes to carry out a limited distribution of school feeding in Yemen. The size of the food basket will be reduced and fewer students will benefit. Only 66 out of the originally planned 93 districts will be receiving the school feeding. There is no planned distribution beyond April because there is not enough funding.
The WFP program of take-home rations in Yemen has been suspended since June 2009 due to low funding. (WFP/Mahdi Kalil)
The U.S. and the international community need to do several things. First, full funding for the WFP Food for Education program in Yemen should be restored. The next step will be to expand the program as a tool to fight the hunger and poverty in the country. All children should be able to receive a school meal in Yemen.
Food for Education needs to be in the forefront of foreign policy. A simple school meal or take-home rations has such a positive domino effect, reducing hunger and malnutrition, and furthering education in a developing country. This was the right policy clearly illustrated in Europe after World War II, and is the right policy today.
President Obama or the Congress have yet to establish a global hunger envoy. This food ambassador can build the international support to help Yemen with Food for Education and other programs. On a global scale, a hunger envoy, operating out of the White House, needs to tackle the global food crisis impacting over one billion people.