Summary: the fighting may have largely ceased but Yemen’s food insecurity increases as humanitarian funding falls and prices for basic commodities continue to rise.
We thank our regular contributor Helen Lackner for today’s article. She has worked in Yemen since the 1970s and lived there for nearly 15 years, and writes about the country’s political, social and economic issues. Helen works as a freelance rural development consultant and is a visiting fellow at the European Council for Foreign Relations. She is the author of Yemen in Crisis, the Road to War published by Verso, a seminal study of the current war and what lies behind it; a revised edition with additional material is coming out shortly. In July Routledge published her new study Yemen: Poverty and Conflict. Helen’s most recent Arab Digest podcast ‘Yemen, a ceasefire and reason to hope’ is available here.
The six months truce in the Yemeni war gave people a break from war-related suffering. But 2022 has also been a year when the humanitarian crisis has continued to deteriorate for three main reasons: the low level of funding for HRP, the UN’s Humanitarian Response Plan (all figures relating to the HRPs are from OCHA’s Financial Tracking Service), the increased prices of fuel and staples resulting from the Ukraine-Russia crisis and severe climate-related events in Yemen and elsewhere. By November, out of a population of 30 million, the total number of Yemenis in need of humanitarian aid is 23 million, including 19 million described as ‘food insecure’, in plain English, lacking sufficient food to be adequately nourished.
Designed in 2021, before the Russia-Ukraine war and its impact, this year’s HRP required US$ 4.3 billion. Unlike previous years, it was not revised mid-year and has remained consistently underfunded. By mid-November, with a mere 7 weeks to go to the end of the year, it has received 54% of its appeal. The UN produces HRPs for the countries with the most severe humanitarian crises. They are generally under-funded: at the world level this year’s funding is a mere 43.6% in mid-November. A few countries are better supported – Libya 80% of requirement, Central African Republic 78% – but Yemen and Afghanistan, with greater demands and needs are both at 54%. Somalia, the country under the greatest threat of famine, has only received 56% of its requirements. The USA is the main funder: worldwide it has contributed 52% this year and 43% in Yemen, followed by Germany (8% worldwide and 11% in Yemen) and the European Union (7% worldwide, 12% in Yemen).
Of course, the absolute amounts required vary from one country to the next but in response to growing humanitarian crises around the world, the amounts have increased systematically in the past decade, reaching a high of US$ 51.6 billion this year, a 30% increase on 2021. Worldwide, funding levels compared to requirements were in the 60% range in the previous decade and have fallen to the 50% range since 2020, a concerning trend. Most years funding for Yemen has been within this average, with the notable exception of 2019 when funding for Yemen was exceptionally high at 87%. Similar to the 2022 requirement, that year Yemen’s HRP was US$ 4.2 billion but Saudi Arabia and the UAE provided 46% of total funding (KSA 34% and UAE 12%.) That contrasts starkly with this year when the Saudis provided just 9.5% and the UAE a mere 1%, at a time when their oil revenues have rocketed. In 2022 Syria and Afghanistan joined Yemen with HRPs of more than US$ 4 billion. GCC states rarely feature among the 10 largest funders for Yemen, and not at all for the other Arab or regional countries in crisis.
The impact of the Ukraine-Russia war has been similar in Yemen to other states [see our posting of 25 May 2022), but has been largely overcome. After big drops of wheat arrivals in June and July, there has been a gradual recovery since August. Prices, however have continued to rise dramatically. As UN Senior official Joyce Msuya, in a briefing from Hodeida in October, pointed out to the UNSC “I saw markets with food and basic goods, but at prices that most people simply cannot afford.” Price, not availability, is the issue, a point made long ago by Amartya Sen about famines.
This is one of many elements which contribute to explaining the Houthis’ focus on salary payments, in their current strategy to undermine peace efforts. The ostensible excuse for not renewing the truce was their demand to include military/security personnel among the beneficiaries of oil revenue financed salary payments. Rather than renewing the cross-border war [at a time when there are serious negotiations between the Houthis and the Saudi regime behind the scenes], their response to the rejection of their demand was to prevent the export of oil. Since the war started, oil is only exported through ports under the control of the internationally recognised government (IRG). Having told oil companies not to export (or as they put it ‘loot’) Yemeni oil, they launched drone attacks on two southern ports as tankers were docked as a warning, resulting in the complete interruption of oil exports from Yemen. Oil, alongside limited taxation and customs revenue, is the main source of income for the government, so the attacks have had an immediate impact on IRG finances, dire at the best of times. (In the first half of 2022, oil revenues had risen by 34% over the same period last year, thanks to current high prices, reaching US$ 793.3 million.) Halting oil exports has a hugely negative impact on Yemenis: in the IRG controlled areas the riyal is likely to rapidly devalue further, and food prices rise beyond their already outrageously high levels, with the minimum monthly food basket in Aden reaching YR 130 000 in August. The average monthly wage is YR30,000.
Meanwhile low funding of the humanitarian sector has an increasingly severe impact: this year the main provider of humanitarian food and cash, the World Food Programme (WFP), has reached fewer and fewer people in need. They have spaced out distributions and the quantities given have reduced. In September the WFP intended to provide 65% of standard rations, an increase from 50% the previous month. In the first eight months of the year, due to underfunding, it reached only about 8.5 million of its 13 million target. Health sector plans reached 40% of their target and education activities 51%.
For decades, environmental crises have further contributed to the deterioration of Yemeni living standards, with increasingly frequent sequences of droughts and floods. Although these phenomena are ‘normal’ in Yemen, their spacing in the past allowed people to plan and save in anticipation. With violent and destructive floods throughout the country in each of the past three years, Yemenis, including those displaced and others in both rural and urban settings have seen their assets disappear and their income generating capacity collapse, leaving them even less able to finance their daily needs. This year, floods have left 74 000 households in various stages of desperation. So, regardless of political developments and in a world which has other priorities, ordinary Yemenis continue to suffer and die.