Gian Carlo Cirri of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) says that “Yemen is undergoing its worst humanitarian crisis ever.” Cirri, who directs WFP’s Yemen mission, says “I cannot recall a time when hardship has been greater in recent Yemeni history.”
Food prices are skyrocketing in Yemen. WFP reports there has been “a 39 percent increase in the price of wheat over just five months.”
For millions of Yemenis, it is a struggle just to get bread. Families are resorting to reducing or even skipping meals or diverting money from health care. It’s a downward spiral to increased malnutrition and disease. That is what is unfolding in Yemen.
WFP is also well short of funding to meet this challenge. An emergency safety net operation will not be able to feed 600,000 intended beneficiaries because of the funding shortage. This is a program WFP wants to expand. It can provide a front of stability for a country in turmoil.
No universal child feeding exists for infants and school children. The U.S. and the international community have not come together to arrange this in Yemen.
What is important to keep in mind about Yemen is that even before the recent headline-grabbing political unrest, the country was already mired in hunger and poverty. Citing pre-unrest numbers WFP says, “Yemen had been ranked the 11th most food insecure country in the world, with one in three Yemenis suffering from food insecurity and more than half of all Yemeni children being chronically malnourished.”
Needless to say, the tensions of recent months have made matters much worse. In my New York Times letter in February I insisted that the U.S. and allies pay attention to hunger and fund relatively inexpensive relief missions. This has not been done and the consequences will come home to roost.
What people want to see is an approach to Yemen’s problems that focuses on hunger and malnutrition. Yet members of Congress are calling for cuts in the U.S. Food for Peace and other hunger-fighting programs. This will hurt Yemen and other countries. So there is real conflict ongoing between cost cutting and good foreign policy planning. Which will win out?
For Yemen, there is still time to act. But as George Marshall used to say, “The patient is sinking while the doctors deliberate.”