John Brennan, President Obama’s anti-terrorism advisor, said last month, “Yemen matters. The people of Yemen matter.” But Brennan’s statement leads to this key question: What matters to the people of Yemen?
For millions of Yemenis, the answer is simple: finding enough food to survive. About one third of the population struggles to access basic foods. Child malnutrition rates are among the highest in the world. Such a strain on the population only weakens their ability to resist the Al Qaeda threat in the country.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) is the lead agency in helping Yemen’s government fight hunger and build food security. In November, WFP and the Ministry of Education combined on an emergency ration program to reach impoverished Yemeni families. However, because of low funding for WFP’s operation, they could only reach about 800,000 people out of an intended 1.7 million.
Food programs need to be expanded in Yemen (WFP/Abeer Etefa)
This lack of funding is all too familiar. Infant feeding programs run by WFP and UNICEF struggle to get plumpy’nut foods that can save children from potentially deadly malnutrition.
At a CARE conference, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said under-nutrition in children “impedes their brain development and causes lifelong health and learning problems.” This is exactly what is occurring in Yemen.
A Food for Education program to tackle hunger and boost school attendance also has been suspended because of low funding. That is the kind of program that matters to the people of Yemen. Right now, it does not exist.
If the international community restores funding, you could see these food programs resume. Once you start attacking the hunger crisis in a significant way, you can begin to see some real change. Take, for instance, food for work projects that can help build roads, repair irrigation systems, and boost agricultural production.
The United States is searching for the right strategy to help Yemen fight Al Qaeda within its borders. Eliminating the terrorist group in the impoverished Middle Eastern country is a top national security priority.
What food can bring to the table is strength, hope, and opportunity for the people of Yemen. This is what is needed most of all. It is a force far more powerful than Al Qaeda or any form of extremism.