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Hunger Amidst Conflict: The Yemeni Crisis

Updated: Mar 31

Maya Khachab



A severely malnourished boy rests on a hospital bed at the Aslam Health Center, Hajjah, Yemen



For the past nine years, Yemen has suffered a devastating civil war. The Iran-Saudi proxy war started after the Houthis seized control of the capital, Sana'a. Since 2014, this war has caused widespread destruction of Yemen’s infrastructure and a dire humanitarian crisis. Damaged agricultural infrastructure has led to rising food prices and water scarcity, leading to famine. Now, with one of the world’s worst malnutrition rates, over 17 million Yemenis remain uncertain about their next meal.

Increasing food prices, economic fluctuations, and high unemployment rates led to the epidemic of Yemenis being unable to purchase food; “As of September 2020, food prices were 140 percent higher than before the war.” The agricultural sector in Yemen has suffered extreme effects such as limited access to farmlands, high prices of agricultural inputs, and increasing fuel prices restricting fuel-dependent farming. Livestock provides essential food products, significantly contributing to every household's nutritional intake and overall food security. Three years into the war, livestock herds were diminished. Many Yemenis were internally displaced but couldn’t take their livestock assets with them, devastating pastoral and agro-pastoral communities. Considering meat being a primary source of income for small farmers, many Yemenis are now unable to afford the high cost of animal feed, and fuel prices have all caused a decline in livestock and poultry production. The decreasing availability of meat and food sources throughout the conflict shows the waves of instability Yemen has experienced.

The consequences of hunger in Yemen are profound and far-reaching. Malnutrition rates in Yemen have been among the highest in the world, notably 1.3 million pregnant and breastfeeding women and 2.2 million children under the age of five require treatment for acute malnutrition. Hunger has weakened the population's immunity, leading to health crises beyond COVID-19. Yemen faces the looming threat of famine due to food scarcity. The World Food Program USA cites the ‘Grievance theory’; “poverty and hunger lead people to act out of desperation, motivated by a perceived injustice upon them or another group.” This statement can be connected to Yemen because the civil war is seen as a consequence of Arab Spring protests for political justice and social demands. The link between food insecurity and instability is referred to as “the perfect storm,” because communities facing economic challenges and food insecurity whose needs aren’t being met, will likely partake in demonstrations or disruptive behavior.

To address the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, international organizations like the United Nations, UNICEF, the World Bank, and the World Food Programme have been working closely with the Yemeni government and international donors to coordinate efforts and provide food aid assistance for those who need it most. Funding shortages and limited resources impede the scale of food assistance programs. Funding shortages mean that organized humanitarian assistance programs established to address immediate needs were cut because of a lack of money. Only $1.9 billion (56%) of the $3.38 billion allocated to Yemeni families in 2020 was received, meaning that food-insecure families received only half as much food as they needed and facilities providing water, sanitation, and health services stopped providing. Despite continuous flows of food supply to Yemen, severe funding gaps restricted potential progress and allowed for food insecurity levels to remain high throughout the years. Tackling hunger in Yemen requires a multi-pronged approach: The Grievance theory suggests ending armed conflict will lead to a stable society. People will not be food secure or comfortable living anywhere with airstrikes and missiles. Ceasefires have been called before but were unsuccessful - the UN needs to find other ways to hold powerful leaders accountable. Efforts ensuring equitable access to helpful humanitarian resources and educational/professional opportunities will reduce grievances. International organizations should receive enough funding from first-world countries to mobilize resources for food aid and development initiatives in Yemen. The UN needs to raise more funds for Yemen’s programs. International donors can provide funding for humanitarian efforts in Yemen. Funds support food assistance, nutrition programs, and access to clean water and sanitation facilities. UN organizations like UNICEF implement nutrition programs and community-based management to treat acute malnutrition in children. One way is through therapeutic feeding, holistic medical treatment, nutritional counseling, and access to clean drinking water. Another recommendation is promoting sustainable agriculture. This involves funding and educating farmers about drought-resistant crops and water conservation methods to help themselves survive. There should be projects aimed at improving water management by investing in water infrastructure to reduce the risk of waterborne diseases and sustainable agricultural practices that conserve water resources and enhance crop yields, even in arid conditions. Organizations should support herders and farmers to protect and rebuild their livelihoods.

The blockade on Yemen's ports of entry should be lifted to allow for the import of food and other essential supplies and the safe, effective distribution of food and other essential supplies. Additionally, local food production and distribution systems should be supported in Yemen because it stimulates their economy and helps internal groups with their money. Economic stabilization needs to be a major focus. Efforts to stabilize the Yemeni rial to reduce food price inflation and improve overall economic stability will help create job opportunities to alleviate poverty and improve families' purchasing power as well as support educational opportunities. This year, 21.6 million Yemenis are in need of humanitarian assistance. The hunger crisis in Yemen serves as a tragic reminder of the devastating consequences of conflict on food security. The Yemeni government and international organizations are working diligently in various sectors to mitigate immediate needs however funding cuts caused food aid to be rationed and vulnerable populations have remained hungry. However, long-term solutions, like conflict resolution, increased humanitarian funding and aid, nutritional and medical help, educational opportunities, and sustainable agriculture, are crucial to breaking the cycle of hunger and suffering.


Bibliography:

“IPC Yemen Alert.” Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, Mar. 2022, www.ipcinfo.org/ipcinfo-website/alerts-archive/issue-58/en/.

“Millions of Yemenis to Go Hungry as UN Forced to Slash Food Aid.” Hunger News | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 27 June 2022, www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/6/27/millions-of-yemenis-to-go-hungry-as-un-forced-to-slash-food-aid.

“Nutrition.” UNICEF Yemen, www.unicef.org/yemen/nutrition. Accessed 27 Oct. 2023.

“Overview.” World Bank, www.worldbank.org/en/country/yemen/overview. Accessed 27 Oct. 2023.

Sova, Chase. Winning the Peace Hunger and Instability , World Food Program USA, 2017, www.wfpusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/2017-Winning-the-Peace-Hunger-and-Instability.pdf.

WFP. (2021). Yemen Emergency. Retrieved from https://www.wfp.org/emergencies/yemen-emergency

“Yemen: Conflict and Food Insecurity.” Conflict Monitor, Global Agricultural Monitoring, 9 Nov. 2021, cropmonitor.org/documents/CONFLICT/reports/Conflict_Report_20211101_Yemen.pdf.

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