Around one-fifth of the
population of Yemen is in need of emergency food aid, the World Food Programme
(WFP) said on Wednesday.
A WFP survey on food
security among 8,000 households in 19 of the country's 21 governorates
concluded that approximately 5 million people – about 22% of the population –
are facing severe hunger, double the 2009 number and above the threshold at
which food aid is required. A further five million are moderately food insecure
and at risk of experiencing further food shortages.
WFP has already scaled
up its aid programme to the country this year to feed 3.6 million vulnerable
people. It is targeting assistance to women and children living in the poorest
14 governorates as well as around 670,000 internally displaced and
"What this shows is
that almost one quarter of the Yemeni population needs emergency food
assistance now," said WFP's Yemen representative Lubna Alaman.
In January, the UN
warned that half a million Yemeni children are at risk of dying during 2012 as
a result of malnutrition or future famine. Around 750,000 children under the
age of five were malnourished, said the UN Office for the Co-ordination of
Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
In the governorate of
al-Hodeidah, acute malnutrition rates are an estimated 28%, the worst in the
country and almost double the World Health Organisation emergency threshold of
15%. In the governorate of al-Mahweet, an estimated 63.5% of children are
experiencing stunted growth.
Rising food and fuel
prices, drought, the economic downturn, political instability and years of
conflict have all contributed to the situation.
Colette Fearon, Oxfam's
country director for Yemen, said the situation was in danger of becoming the
"forgotten crisis". Lack of education, jobs and basic sanitation in
some regions meant poverty levels had already reached crisis levels before prices
spiked and the political fallout from the Arab spring took its toll.
WFP survey results in action," said Fearon. "The humanitarian crisis
needs to be taken seriously."
Joy Singhal, manager of
Oxfam's humanitarian response in Yemen, added: "For years, the
deteriorating crisis in Yemen has been ignored – and now the country is at
breaking point. Hunger now extends beyond the conflict zones in the north and
the south of the country, and is at risk of becoming a normal part of
In December, the UN said
it needed $447m to meet humanitarian needs in Yemen this year, up by more than
50% on the 2011 amount. So far, just 14% has been raised. The International
Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has launched an appeal for around £26m.
On Tuesday, the UK's
Department for International Development (DfID) announced it was increasing its
support for Yemen to £20m this financial year. The department said the money
will provide: healthcare to more than 100,000 people affected by conflict;
emergency shelter, drinking water and sanitation for 23,000 people; food
assistance to more than 8,500 people for six months; hygiene kits and household
items to 6,000 people for six months; and seeds, tools and fertiliser to help
12,200 people increase the amount of food they can grow.
Alan Duncan, who has just returned from a visit to the country, said:
"It's no longer good enough for the international community to claim that
they have no idea just how bad things now are in Yemen. While I was there yesterday,
I heard first-hand reports from parts of the country where malnutrition rates
are on a par with Somalia. In some areas, every 15th child dies before reaching
the age of five. The international community must respond and it must do so
Fearon said donors have
been reluctant to send aid into the country, concerned that political
instability and violence in some areas would divert it away from those most in
need. In a report last year, Oxfam encouraged donors to seek alternative ways
to channel their funding, such as involving civil society groups and
strengthening the existing social welfare fund.
Last month, Abed-Rabbo
Mansour Hadi was sworn in as Yemen's new president, taking over from Ali
Abdullah Saleh, who ceded power after 33 years. Inspired by the revolt in
Tunisia, protesters began calling for his resignation and constitutional change
in January 2011, resulting in more than a year of violence and political
Hadi has vowed to tackle
the country's economic crisis and return the displaced to their homes. However,
escalating fighting between government troops and al-Qaida, which has
established bases in the country, threatens to hamper progress. The UN said
last week that more than 1,800 people had been displaced since the end of February.
The ICRC said the
year-long demonstrations and conflict had "taken their toll" on the
whole economy and "massively disrupted infrastructure, which will need
months if not years to be fully operational again".