Is Yemen in famine?

By November 5, 2018

Yemen (MNN) – Recent stories of hunger and desperate Yemenis eating leaves to survive have begun circulating.

Fighting has complicated relief efforts, as has a blockade. All the while, an estimated 8.4 million Yemenis are on the verge of starvation while almost 18 million lack access to good, nutritious food. In fact, the United Nations has started to use the word ‘famine’ to describe the acute food shortage gripping Yemen in its jaws. It’s a term used sparingly, because with it comes a determination of response.

A famine can be declared only when certain measures of mortality, malnutrition, and hunger are met. They are: at least 20 percent of households in an area face extreme food shortages with a limited ability to cope; acute malnutrition rates exceed 30 percent; and the death rate exceeds two persons per day per 10,000 persons.

We touched base with an aid worker (whose name has been withheld for security purposes) assisting relief efforts in Yemen.

Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. (Photo courtesy of IMB)

Mission Network News: The latest information we’ve seen from the United Nations warns that Yemen could be facing “the worst famine in 100 years”, is that especially dramatic language to describe food insecurity there?

Relief Worker (RW): The description emphasizes the magnitude and severity of the Yemen humanitarian crisis as compared to the past recorded famine events of the last 100 years. Units of measure used are the size of the affected population, level of violence as well as fatalities as a result of the conflict.

Here are a few examples-

I. 130 children under five years die each day from hunger and disease according to UNICEF
II. Out of the estimated population of 27 million Yemenis, 22 million people require aid with over 17.8 million people who are food insecure and out of this, approximately 8.4 million people are severely food insecure and at risk of starvation.
III. One million people have been affected by cholera and the disease continues to spread amid collapsed WASH infrastructure.
IV. The Saudi led coalition forces have deployed more than 18,000 air raids since the start of the war according to the independent Yemen Data Project that records the ongoing conflict, largely attacking civilians and civilian objects.


MNN: It has been bad over many years, but has the problem taken a turn for the worst? If yes, what are contributing factors?


I. Yemen was ranked as the Arab world’s poorest country just before the current conflict.
The recent escalation of the conflict has dramatically exacerbated the already worsened
humanitarian situation as civilian infrastructures are targeted, including markets,
hospitals, and ports and related civilian logistic systems.
II. Over 70% of the population is living at or below the poverty line, as a result of the
stoppage of public salary payments, and an economy that has shrunk by 68%, according to
Economist Intelligence Unit estimations. Businesses have on average reduced operating
hours by 60% compared to the pre-crisis period, leading to layoffs that are estimated at
67% of the workforce. Yemen has experienced large-scale unemployment and daily labor wages have remained unchanged in the last four years, while the costs of essential goods have increased dramatically.
III. The crisis has sharply intensified due to the closure of critical seaports and airports, by the Saudi-led coalition. The blockade has disrupted both humanitarian and commercial supply pipelines with life-threatening consequences for the Yemeni population, which relies almost completely on commercial imports to supply its food needs.


MNN: Why is it so hard to get this crisis on the global stage?

RW: The Yemen humanitarian crisis had attracted global attention but the attention was quickly overshadowed by the civil war in Syria as well as the war on terrorism in both Syria and Iraq. Conflicts in these two countries generated a large portion of the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe.


MNN: There are articles citing some Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) as describing the Yemeni food crisis as a ‘manmade’ emergency. Do you agree?

RW: The Yemen humanitarian crisis is largely created by the effects of the current conflict that has led to the collapsed economy. Continuing military activities and violence, as well as blockade of imports, has escalated the already worsened humanitarian situation. Yemen imports over 90% of food and essential supplies.


MNN: Yemen seems to have a difficult relationship with aid groups? Is that a perception or is it the reality? If yes, why?

RW: Challenges experienced by humanitarian organizations are largely access constraints as humanitarian corridors are occasionally blocked as well as lack of security in areas of intervention. In the absence of central authorities, humanitarian entities face coordination challenges with authorities.


Mosque in Yemen. (Photo courtesy of Matt May/Flickr)

MNN: What’s being done to help the Yemeni people?

RW: The traditional donor community and private donors are providing funds for the Yemen response, but the overwhelming scale of the crisis is such that the funds available fall well short of the vast needs. Although international organizations have some presence in the country, national NGOs are playing a key role in the response. Our local partners are working on a multi-sectorial relief response in Food Security, WASH, and Health as well as working in Development, in the areas of Education, training, and capacity building. A few of these initiatives specifically target women.


MNN: Even if you can get a stopgap into place to halt the immediate emergency, what about the future? This goes several years down the line when you miss planting seasons, harvests and such…can those helping even afford to look ahead that far?

RW: The stopgap measures will save the lives of the affected population, particularly the most vulnerable, as well as help stabilize their lives as other humanitarian actors work on early recovery programs that will transition to development.


MNN: For people that can’t go to Yemen to help or assist in NGO work, what else can they do?

RW: I think advocacy is the main thing that people can do; making it known to both their social networks, churches and organizations on social media. They can also write their senator and ask them what they are doing to stop the selling of weapons by the U.S. to Saudi Arabia–making it known, that it is an issue that the American people care about.

People can also sign up to the PrayerMate App and pray for Yemen and the church in the Arabian Peninsula.
A partner posts prayer requests from the Arabian Peninsula Church to a feed in the PrayerMate App, where one prayer request is shared each day.



Header image courtesy of Prayercast/One Way Ministries

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