Yemen, a country which borders Saudi Arabia, has been in the news lately for the deadly Al Qaeda presence within its borders. Far less coverage has been given to the greater struggle in that impoverished country against hunger and malnutrition.
This past weekend Maria Santamarina of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) informed me that demonstrations are taking place in Yemen over food shortages. WFP, facing low funding, had to cut rations in half for over 250,000 people who have been displaced by a conflict in the North between the government and rebels. These Yemenis are completely dependent on food aid.
It gets worse. More WFP food programs in Yemen have been facing ration cuts and in some cases complete suspension—all this in one of the poorest countries in the world where 1 in 3 suffer from chronic hunger.
In a country facing such hunger and despair, how do we expect to see stability, especially in the face of the Al Qaeda threat?
This hunger crisis in Yemen will have a particularly devastating effect on children. Jennifer Mizgata of WFP says that child feeding in Yemen “must be addressed immediately before an entire generation is lost.”
Small children who lack nutrition in their first years can become severely impaired physically and mentally for their entire lives. The child feeding by WFP is of the utmost urgency.
WFP is not alone with funding shortages. Geert Cappelaere of UNICEF-Yemen says that their child feeding programs are facing funding shortfalls of over 3 million dollars. Save the Children is also in need of support for its programs in Yemen.
There is potential help out there. I was recently contacted by a non-profit organization in Providence, Rhode Island called Edesia which produces ready-to-use foods (RTU) like Plumpy’nut, which are desperately needed by children in Yemen.
Edesia not only can provide supplies of this food for Yemen, but can also help implement local production to help the economy there. In fact, UNICEF and WFP have mentioned the importance of this local production goal as part of a solution to hunger in Yemen.
But what prevents this food from getting to Yemen right now is lack of funding and lack of will from the international community.
The capability exists to take action and save children in Yemen. From a humanitarian and national security perspective, it is the right course of action. Our national security strategy has to emphasize child feeding in a more vigorous way, and it needs to start in Yemen.
There once was a time when U.S. foreign policy was summed up in the words of the great general and diplomat, George Marshall, who said that we are against “hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos.” And we acted on those words with a great European recovery program after World War II, of which child feeding was a vital part.
Where is such leadership and spirit now, as we face the great hunger tragedy in Yemen and other countries, and particularly its impact on the future: the children?