Thursday, September 27, 2012

More Action, Less Talk on Yemen Food Crisis

Yemen is considered one of the poorest, least developed countries in the world, ranking at 154 out of 187 countries on the 2011 UNDP Human Development Index. It is currently facing a challenging period of political transition following a 10-month conflict ending former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year rule.

According to the World Food Program over five million people – 22 percent of the Yemeni population – were severely food insecure and unable to produce or buy the food they needed, an 87 percent increase from the 2009 CFSS (Comprehensive Food Security Survey) report. In addition, another five million people are moderately food insecure and at risk of becoming severely food insecure due to the rise in food and fuel prices, amid ongoing civil unrest. In total, around 10 million people in Yemen are food insecure – 44.5 percent of the population – and have limited or no access to sufficient, nutritious food, and are eating a poor or borderline diet according to international health standards.  

UNICEF has warned that children in Yemen are the most affected by the food crisis. Yemen has the second highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world, behind Afghanistan. 58 percent of Yemen’s children under the age of five are stunted by malnutrition.  "In Yemen, there are over 250,000 children who suffer from severe, acute malnutrition, which means they could die very soon. This is almost as many as there were in Somalia during the height of the crisis last year," said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, while touring a hospital in a recent visit to Yemen.
Colette Fearon, Oxfam’s Country Director in Yemen, said: “Yemen is dealing with a catastrophic food crisis and people really need our help. People are getting into worrying levels of debt just to get food for their families – and surviving on a meager diet of tea and bread.’
Yemen, now more than ever, is facing an intensifying inter-related political and humanitarian crisis. The humanitarian condition in Yemen is deteriorating further also due to the internal displacement of over 500,000 people and the significant influx of refugees to Yemen via the Red Sea, despite its unstable condition. Based on UNCHR’s August 2012 Fact Sheet a total of 227,266 refugees are currently in Yemen.
Yemen’s planning and international cooperation minister, Mohammed Al-Saadi told donors the national unity government needed $11.9 billion in the short term, yet donors only pledged $6.4 billion in the last meeting held on 3 September 2012 in Riyadh. Saudi Arabia pledged $3.25 billion, including a $1 billion loan to Yemen’s Central Bank, the US said it would provide $345 million for security, humanitarian and development assistance to Yemen; of that $117 million is for humanitarian assistance. The UK pledged to donate $317 million.
The need for foreign aid is a vital necessity in Yemen based on the above-mentioned facts. However, Yemeni activists are skeptical in regards to foreign donations. Some worry that it creates a pattern of dependency. Safa Mubgar, a member of the Independent Yemen Group, said in response “to those who fear aid-dependency, I agree; but the man has to survive long enough to be taught to fish. He needs a fish to eat today.”

Certainly emergency aid and short-term solutions are not the best remedy to Yemen’s problems, but they are urgently needed now to counter the humanitarian crisis. Yet, long term development planning and investment projects, which create job opportunities, generate income, and boost Yemen’s economy is what is needed to move away from aid dependency.

Others doubt any of the funds will actually reach the intended beneficiaries, and believe it is more likely to end up in the accounts of corrupt Yemeni officials. Joy Singhal, manager of Oxfam’s humanitarian response in Yemen in an interview also reiterated the concern that the money will not actually reach those in need. “I would just like to put a word of caution there, because we do not know where that money is going to be spent, we do not know when that money is going to arrive, and we don’t know how much of that money is going to be spent on humanitarian needs which are most critical right now,” he said.

While 10 million people go hungry daily, there are people who deny or are unaware that a crisis exists, sadly in Yemen too. In addition foreign donors are also reluctant to pour any funds into Yemen due to the fragile security condition and the high corruption rate.

These concerns were addressed in the last meeting in Riyadh as pointed by Wael Zakout, World Bank Country Manager for Yemen, who outlined the commitments made by the government and the international community to ensure that the aid reaches “quickly, transparently, and efficiently.” He adds “in addition to the pledges, the meeting endorsed the Mutual Accountability Framework (MAF) that outlines the commitments of both Yemen’s Government of National Reconciliation and the donor community during the transition period”… “The government has committed to take the necessary steps to investigate high level officials who are involved in corruption and is committed now to establish a special court to accelerate the prosecution of corruption cases and ensure that those convicted serve their sentences.”

On September 27, the Friends of Yemen group – chaired by the UK and Saudi Arabia – are meeting again in New York to discuss the situation in Yemen. In solidarity with the people of Yemen, Awssan Kamal a Yemeni activist and member of the Yemen Development and Relief Forum (YRDF) spearheaded the launch of the “Hungry for Yemen” campaign. The campaign was endorsed by The Yemen Peace Project , Independent Yemen Group, Yemen Relief & Development Forum and The Yemeni American Coalition for Change and other international non-governmental organizations and independent activists. It aims to encourage people to either fast or skip lunch on the 27th in order to raise awareness of the dire humanitarian situation 10 million Yemenis face everyday. The campaign is also targeted at UK Foreign Secretary William Hague and Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal as co-chairs of the Friends of Yemen meeting in addition to the US, EU and UN, urging them and other world leaders to prioritize immediate and sufficient funding of the UN’s appeal for Yemen’s emergency needs. The United Nations Humanitarian Plan for Yemen requires $585 million to provide necessary assistance and is currently $304 million short from the required funds.

While world leaders will be discussing Yemen’s long and short term goals in the upcoming Friends of Yemen meeting, the International aid agencies working in Yemen have stressed that the humanitarian emergency relief must be on the top of their agenda. There are also some local organizations such as Hemat Shabab who have been working to feed hungry families in Yemen, yet their work is limited and they also lack proper funding. The Yemeni civil society have also echoed that the humanitarian crisis is derailing the transition process and should be the key to any funding for Yemen, in their last civil society meeting held in Riyadh, and so has the Yemeni diaspora by organizing the “Hungry for Change” campaign.

What Yemen needs mostly now from the International Community are actions not promises, and food not just pledges. Donors must respond now before the crisis deepens further. The significant funds pledged at the Friends of Yemen meetings for Yemen’s security and stability need to be turned into humanitarian aid immediately to keep people alive and save Yemen’s future generation. There can never be any stability nor safety in Yemen when 44% of the population are facing hunger daily and their main concern is to find food for themselves and their family. People in Yemen are depending on the humanitarian support of the International Community to address the pressing needs on the ground and equally important in providing solutions that would break the hunger cycle, such as development and investment projects, youth training and employment programs and empowering local communities through revenue generating projects.


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