Yemen on brink of hunger catastrophe aid agencies warn

Published: 23rd May 2012

Yemen is on the brink of a catastrophic food crisis, seven aid agencies said today (23 May 2012) with 10 million people – 44 percent of the population – without enough food to eat. The aid agencies warned that malnutrition rates recorded by the UN in some parts of the country were alarming, with one in three children severely malnourished.

Ministers from the UK, Saudi Arabia and other countries are set to meet at the Friends of Yemen conference in Riyadh today. The agencies - CARE, International Medical Corps, Islamic Relief, Merlin, Mercy Corps, Oxfam and Save the Children – called on those attending the meeting to scale up efforts to tackle the crisis. The UN humanitarian appeal for the country is just 43 percent funded – a $262 million shortfall.  

Penny Lawrence, Oxfam’s International Director, who is visiting Yemen, said:

“Yemeni families are at the brink and have exhausted their ways of coping with this crisis. A quarter of the population has fallen into debt trying to feed their families. Mothers are taking their children out of school to beg on the streets to get money to survive. Donors are focused on politics and security, but failure to respond adequately to the humanitarian needs now will put more lives at risk, further entrench poverty and could undermine political transition in the country.”

Yemen’s political crisis last year increased hunger in the country as food and fuel prices surged.  Hunger has doubled since 2009. A quarter of the hungry – some 5 million people – are in need of urgent emergency aid. In Hodeidah and Hajjah, child malnutrition rates are double the emergency level. The UN estimates that 267,000 Yemeni children are facing life threatening levels of malnutrition.

Conflict in the north and south the country is also exacerbating the crisis.  Over the last two months, nearly 95,000 people have been forced to leave their homes as a result of conflicts, bringing the number of people displaced in the country to close to half a million.

Women are particularly at risk, as they generally eat last and least. Oxfam partners have reported an increase in early marriage as families marry off their daughters young in order to ease the burden of the crisis.

Jerry Farrell, Save the Children's country Director in Yemen said:

"Almost half of Yemen's population now does not have enough to eat. Political instability, conflict and high prices have left families across the country going hungry. We know that children always suffer the most when food is in short supply, and unless urgent humanitarian action is taken, Yemen will be plunged into a hunger crisis of catastrophic proportions."

Some donors have justified their reluctance to respond swiftly and at the scale required by pointing to the security situation and the continued political instability in the country. However, the work of the aid agencies shows that assistance can be delivered at scale and in a manner that is transparent and accountable, despite the difficult context.  

Hashem Awnallah, Islamic Relief Yemen (IRY) Country Director, said:

“The hungry of Yemen cannot wait. The aid community is ready and willing to scale up in Yemen. Donors need to heed the lessons of the Horn of Africa and respond now before the crisis further deepens.”

There is food in local markets in most parts of Yemen, but millions of people cannot afford to buy enough food for their families.  Oxfam gave cash payments to 100,000 people in Al Hodeidah helping them to purchase food, with Save the Children running a similar programme in Sa’ada.  Mercy Corps has implemented cash-for-work projects in Taiz City providing a fair wage to local people with little other means to earn income and buy food.  CARE’s recent livelihoods project in Haradh reached 4373 people including 1794 internally displaced persons. In addition, government programmes like the Social Welfare Fund, which provides cash payments to millions of Yemenis, could be further supported and scaled up.

Tweet this: Yemen on brink of hunger catastrophe [audio slideshow]

Read the report: Where There’s a Will: Tackling the humanitarian crisis in Yemen

Yemeni families are at the brink and have exhausted their ways of coping with this crisis.
Penny Lawrence
Oxfam GB’s International Director

Notes to editors

1. The WFP comprehensive food security survey revealed that 10 million people in Yemen were food insecure and that 5 million needed urgent assistance. It said these numbers were double those in 2009. Assessments by UNICEF revealed malnutrition rates of 31.4% in Hajjah and of 31.7% in Hodeidah. OCHA estimates that 95,000 people have been forced to leave their homes as a result of conflicts in the last 2 months and 267,000 Yemeni children are facing life threatening levels of malnutrition.

2. Please see below for details of what each of the aid agencies are doing in Yemen:

CARE has been working in Yemen for the past 20 years with current short and long term-projects in Sana’a, Aden, and Hajjah and with assessments on-going and planned for further expansion and scale-up. It has implemented projects with those internally displaced by the conflict in the north and south, as well as with the host communities in efforts to mitigate conflict. CARE has provided water, sanitation, hygiene, livelihoods, and protection support.

International Medical Corps commenced activities in Yemen in February 2012 and is implementing a program in the Sana’a governorate focused on primary health care, nutrition, and hygiene promotion in semi-rural, underserved communities. It is planning additional assessments in other governorates to expand critical nutrition and water, sanitation, and hygiene work.

Islamic Relief has worked in Yemen since 1998. Our field office is distributing emergency  food and hygiene kits in Aden, Sana'a, Amran, Sa'ada and Hajja. These include items such as rice, vegetable oil, white beans, wheat flour and sugar. Community kitchens have been established in schools and gas cookers, gas cylinders and cooking utensils have been provided.

Mercy Corps’ is working to provide emergency food to the most vulnerable people; increase access to emergency water and sanitation; meeting the mental health needs of children and protecting them against violence; and looking ahead at methods to help the people of Yemen move past this crisis and become more self-sufficient for the long-term.

Merlin registered in May and plans to start immediate deployment in the Hodeidah area along the Red Sea, focusing on nutrition projects for the first months. It will then roll out its health portfolio, including primary health care provision, disease control, maternal and child care and family planning.

Oxfam has been working in Yemen for the past 30 years. It is providing water and sanitation to those displaced by conflict in the north and south of the country.  Given the protracted conflict in the north, Oxfam has begun to train men and women in vocational skills so that they can earn a living.  Oxfam will be starting a new round of 6 month cash transfers in Hodeidah in June.

Save the Children has been working in Yemen since 1963.  Recognizing that the current situation will require both short-term emergency response programs as well as longer term, more sustainable interventions, our work includes life-saving nutrition services for acutely and severely malnourished children, preventative action such as cash transfers and longer term support and vocational training to ensure families have viable livelihoods.

Contact information

For more information, please contact:

Caroline Berger, Regional Communications Officer for Middle East, Eastern Europe and the CIS, Oxfam GB
t: 01865473487
Twitter @Caroline_Berger