Yemen: a few months away from running out of food

Published: 6th December 2016

Vital food imports have plunged below half the level the country’s needs

Yemen’s population is at risk of catastrophic hunger as food imports continue to plunge and on current trends the war torn country will effectively run out of things to eat in a few months, Oxfam warned today.

The international agency said that in August, the amount of food imported into Yemen fell below half the level needed to feed the country’s people and remained below that ever since.

A 20 month long war, waged between a Saudi-led coalition of Gulf countries and the Government of Yemen against the Houthis, has killed and injured over 11,000 civilians, forced more than 3 million people to flee their homes and brought the economy to near collapse.

Oxfam is calling on the Saudi-led coalition to lift shipping restrictions to allow food and other vital imports to increase, and on all parties in the conflict to allow food to move freely around the country and agree a meaningful ceasefire and restart peace talks. It is also calling for rich countries to increase support to the UN aid effort which is currently only 58 per cent funded and short of over $686 million (£540m).

Mark Goldring, Oxfam GB Chief Executive, said:

“Yemen is being slowly starved to death. First there were restrictions on imports -  including much need food - when this was partially eased the cranes in the ports were bombed, then the warehouses, then the roads and the bridges. This is not by accident - it is systematic.

“The country’s economy, its institutions, its ability to feed and care for its people are all on the brink of collapse.

“There is still time to pull it back before we see chronic hunger becoming widespread starvation. The fighting needs to stop and the ports should be fully opened to vital supplies of food, fuel and medicine. As one of the principle backers of this brutal war Britain needs to end its arms sales and military support to the Saudis and help put Yemen on the road to peace.”

Even before the conflict started, nearly 90 per cent of Yemen’s food had to be imported. With the country’s agriculture hit by the fighting, that reliance on food imports has only increased. However restrictions on shipping which are punishing the Yemeni population and the destruction of many port facilities by the Saudi-led coalition means that meeting the country’s food needs has reached a critical juncture.

In November 2015 the country was importing just over what it required, by October this year that had plunged to 40 per cent of its needs. Without a massive increase in food imports this trend is likely to continue in which case, by April next year there will virtually be no food imports.

Reduced ability of ports to handle cargo means ships have a lengthy wait at anchorage before they can berth to off-load their cargo. In November average delays at ports in the north-west were considerable - 53 days in Saleef and 23 days for Hodeidah.

There is some smuggling of food on the black market across the land border between Yemen and Saudi Arabia. This is an important source of food but not on a scale to resolve the hunger crisis.

According to the UN, malnutrition is on the increase and more than 14 million people - half the country’s population - are ‘food insecure’, without a reliable source of enough food. The World Food Programme is warning that the numbers may rise to 21 million people.

People are doubly hit with food prices increasing – cereal prices are over 50 per cent of pre-crisis levels - and income falling. Some 31 per cent of the work force are civil servants and have not been paid or have received irregular payments in recent months. The most vulnerable of the population, 1.5 million people, who had relied on welfare payments, have received no payments since the crisis started over a year ago.

Besides a food import crisis there is also a fuel import crisis. Yemen used to be a fuel exporter but the conflict has effectively shut down production though recently there has a slight resurgence of oil production in the southern port of Aden. The country is now dependent on fuel imports and is only importing a quarter of what it needs.

Once food is in the country there is a challenge to distribute it to where it is needed, not only due to fuel shortage but because bridges on vital trade routes have been deliberated bombed. Fuel is also essential to pump water, run hospitals, light homes and keep Yemen’s ailing economy from collapsing completely.

Contact information

For more information, please contact:

Ian Bray, tel +44(0)1865 472289, +44(0) 7721 461339,

Benjamin Wiacek, tel +216 53 547 791 (Tunis),, @BenjaminWiacek

For updates, please follow @Oxfam.

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