The Washington Post reports that the United States has stepped up drone attacks in Yemen against the Al Qaeda affiliate (AQAP) there.
But while the military component of the U.S. response in Yemen is surging, hunger relief plans, including life-saving interventions for infants, remain low on funding.
This dangerous imbalance in U.S. policy will undermine a peace plan for Yemen. As the country remains locked in political turmoil with protesters demanding the resignation of President Saleh, hunger and malnutrition have intensified. Fuel and electricity are in short supply.
All these conditions come together to form a perfect storm of hunger. Higher fuel prices lead to higher food prices. Lack of electricity means less proper storage of food which can be extremely harmful, particularly to small children. This perfect storm descends upon a country that was already gripped by hunger, long before the Arab Spring began.
Last year the UN World Food Programme (WFP) drew up an emergency response plan to help Yemeni families suffering from high food prices. The idea was to deliver food rations to millions of Yemenis as a safety net. Now that plan takes on even more urgency. Help for people displaced by fighting between the government and Al Qaeda in Southern Yemen was added to the relief plan this year.
However, the World Food Programme remains low on funding. WFP needs about $60 million for its 2011 operations which include the aforementioned relief plan as well as aid for displaced persons in Northern Yemen, Food for Work Projects to build infrastructure, and Food for Education programs. This funding shortage is just for 2011. We also have to look ahead to 2012.
In addition, UNICEF needs funding to reach all children with life-saving nutritional and health support. Children who do not get proper nutrition in the first thousand days of life suffer lasting physical and mental damage.
WFP and UNICEF depend on voluntary funding for their operations. The U.S. and partners for peace in Yemen need to ensure that these agencies have enough funds to carry out relief missions. It’s urgent that they do.
A just released Child Mortality report stated that 69,000 children under age five perished in Yemen last year. Interventions like the further use of plumpy’nut foods and improved health care could save Yemeni children from this fate.
Stepping up drone attacks alone is not going to bring peace in Yemen and improve international security. It takes a comprehensive effort that must have its foundations in support for the people of Yemen. Nothing is more basic to this than ensuring that Yemenis do not suffer from hunger and want.