Millions of Yemenis are starving while the international community focuses on security issues and tackling Al Qaeda, according to the United Nations. Vital deliveries of food deliveries and assistance is being cut because of a near-total absence of funding.
Nearly one in three Yemenis, more than seven million people, struggles daily to find enough food to live a healthy and productive life, leading to rates of malnutrition that are the third highest in the world, the U.N. said. A survey by its World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that, of those going hungry each day, 2.7 million are classified as “severely food insecure,” meaning they spend one third of their income on bread.
“They are in a total poverty trap,” Gian Carlo Cirri, WFP country director, said. “Most of the time they are illiterate, they have no access to land or water. The children are not attending school and the probability of having a malnourished child in the family is extremely high.” WFP estimates it requires $105m this year and next to feed more than three million of Yemen's poor and hungry, including 250,000 people displaced by the recent war in the north and the boatloads of Somali refugees pouring into the country.
Yet the agency's accounts so far this year are barely breaking even. Cirri said it had received just a single donation of food and cooking oil worth $4.8m from the U.S.; the same amount as the internal loan the agency was forced to take out recently.
Traditional donors to WFP Yemen, including Germany, Saudi Arabia and Britain, have yet to pledge assistance, a move seen by some as reluctance to write blank cheques for the government of President Abdullah Ali Saleh, without concrete reforms that would help ease Yemen's acute instability.
A conference last month in the Saudi capital brought together Yemen's Gulf neighbours, building on discussions in London in January on how to spend the $5.7 billion of investment pledged in 2006, but of which less than 10 per cent has been disbursed.
The massive humanitarian intervention in Haiti has also had a direct negative impact on relief aid to Yemen, even as rising food prices, falling fuel revenues, and cuts to remittance flows due to the financial crisis have increased poverty here by nearly 25 per cent since 2006, wiping out decades of development.
If new donations do not arrive by June, the WFP will be unable to continue distributing food rations to refugees fleeing fighting with Shia rebels in the country's north. For families like that of 30-year-old Jamila Ali al-Mohn — a mother of four from the picturesque but poor village of Thulla, 50 km north-west of Sanaa — that means hunger.
At the WFP-sponsored distribution centre in Thulla recently, Mohn, along with a few dozen other new mothers, collected her two-month support bag of grain, oil, sugar and salt and carried it on her head back up the steep hill to the house she shares with two other families.
“We haven't eaten meat for a year. If there's money I go and buy eggs and vegetables from the market, but other than that all we have is bread and tea,” said Mohn, sitting on the floor of a room filled with children.
Her husband, the breadwinner, was at work, the first day's labour he had had on the farm for two months, she said.
When there's no farming, like most others, he travels to Sanaa with a bundle of narcotic qat leaves to sell to the many addicts of the city. He makes about $30 a week.
“If there was no WFP I would have to ask for help from my mother,” said Mohn.
Asked why her mother was in a position to help, Mohn replied: “She is sick so receives benefits of $35 every three months.” — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010