FAO warns of rapidly deteriorating food security in Yemen

More than 14 million people food insecure, in need of urgent livelihood support

28 January 2016, Sana'a - More than half of the total population of Yemen — some 14.4 million people — are food insecure, as ongoing conflict and import restrictions have reduced the availability of essential foods and sent prices soaring, FAO said today.

The number of food insecure people has grown by 12 percent since June 2015 (36 percent since late 2014), according to the UN agency.

"Food insecurity and malnutrition are becoming highly critical," said Salah Elhajj Hassan, FAO Representative in Yemen, calling for urgent support to assist families in growing food and protect their livestock as well as measures to facilitate much-needed food and fuel imports.

"The numbers are staggering," added Etienne Peterschmitt, FAO Deputy Representative and Emergency Response Team Leader in Yemen, who called the situation "a forgotten crisis, with millions of people in urgent need across the country."

"Under these critical conditions, it's more important than ever to help families produce their own food and reduce their dependence on increasingly scarce and costly food imports," he added.

Fuel shortages and restrictions on imports — which Yemen relies on for more than 90 percent of its staple foods — have reduced the availability of essential food commodities and caused food and fuel prices to soar since conflict escalated in March 2015.

Yemen is heavily dependent on these imports, as only 4 percent of the country's land is arable and only a fraction of that land is currently used for food production.

Some 2.3 million people are internally displaced within Yemen — an increase of more than 400 percent compared with January 2015. This puts additional pressure on host communities already struggling with limited food resources.

Impacts on livelihoods

Crop production, livestock rearing and fisheries employ 50 percent of Yemen's workforce and are the main sources of livelihoods for two-thirds of the country.

But a shortage of critical inputs like seeds and fertilizers have severely reduced crop production, with estimates suggesting the recent conflict has caused dramatic losses to the agriculture sector.

Diminishing income opportunities and disrupted markets are exacerbating the immense needs already present in Yemen prior to the current conflict.

Livelihoods support is critical for rural population who are often out of reach from humanitarian assistance.

Adding to the dire situation, Yemen was hit by two cyclones in November 2015, which heavily disrupted fishers' livelihoods along the country's coast lines.

FAO response to the crisis

Reflecting growing needs, FAO has increased its annual funding appeal for Yemen from previous years to $25 million in 2016 to help families produce food and build resilience with a variety of activities.

To support people's immediate food needs, FAO has been working with local women's groups to support backyard farming through the distribution of seeds, tools and chickens that improve family nutrition and create extra income at market.

To vulnerable farmers operating larger plots, FAO will be providing solar-powered irrigation pumps with the help of water-user associations, allowing farmers to continue production regardless of fuel shortages that have made operating diesel-powered pumps impossible for many.

Yemen is among the most water-scarce countries in the world with less than 5 percent of the world average available per person per year, making irrigation a key concern for farmers. Through the Sana'a basin project, FAO is helping famers apply climate smart agriculture practices to improve productivity and water management.

Keeping livestock healthy and productive is equally important and FAO is working with local partners to hold vaccination campaigns and distribute animal feed.

Finally, fishers who lost their livelihoods in the recent cyclones will be able to go back to sea and fish streams with the help of new equipment.

"Like all aid agencies operating in Yemen right now, we're working under severe limits of movement and access to large parts of the country — so we have to be realistic about what we can deliver," explained Peterschmitt, who added that the current program targets about half a million people.

"But we're seeing the immediate effects that small interventions, like backyard chicken and small ruminant farming, have on families who are now able to eat and sell surpluses to generate income for the family — and we're seizing every opportunity to support communities to continue to produce in difficult circumstances."

Photo: ©AFP/Abdulnasser Seddek/ANADOLU AGENCY
Yemenis, hauling food items, walk along a path following an embargo on staple products in Taiz, Yemen on December 26,2015.