Old Yemenis practiced the water harvesting system since BC. The great Dam of Marib and the mountains’ terraces in highlands worked efficiently to collect rain water and to keep lands fertile. This system helped to widespread the green areas, hence, Yemen was called ‘Al-Yemen Al-Saied’ or ‘Happy Yemen’. However, that was… long time ago!
Today, Yemen is facing one of the worst humanitarian crises specially in food security. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization FAO, the ongoing war and conflict are having serious impacts on food security system, including, transportation networks, market supply, food import, which had caused higher food prices for importers, producers and consumers. Yemen imports almost 95% of its food, which is a serious threat considering these impacts. In Yemen around 14.4 million people are facing food insecurity, including 7.6 million who are severely food insecure. That means 55% of Yemenis ‘more than half of population’ are food insecure!
On the other hand, according to the Wold Bank, Yemen was facing challenges on several fronts before the war, such as, high population growth, severe urban-rural imbalances, water scarcity, female illiteracy, widespread poverty, economic stagnation, and food scarcity as well. In 2009 17% of population, were food insecure according to the World Food Program WFP, who called for urgent interventions in Yemen to avoid the ‘situation worsening’, however, this percentage increased in 2011 to reach 32% . As a response, the Ministry of planning and International Cooperation in Yemen cooperated with the International Food Policy Research Institute and come up with, the 7-Point Food Action Plan to achieve food security. The plan aimed to reduce food insecurity by one third by 2015, and to achieve 90% of food security by 2020. However, their plan did not see the light of day.
In 2012 according to the World Food Program, the percentage of food insecure people increased dramatically to reach 44.5% (10 million people). Almost half of Yemenis, and that was since 2012!!
There were many factors impacting the food system by that time. In 2010 the government started to reform oil subsidies, which impacted the farmers’ ability to afford operation costs, also affected people in urban areas as most business rely on fuel to generate electricity, which led eventually to the rise in food prices. Without forgetting, the instability of political situation due to the ‘Arab Spring’, which reached Yemen in 2011. Before that, Yemen was facing other challenges. The population growth which resulted the food demand to increase dramatically, as according to The National Food Security Strategy NFSS, between 2000 to 2007 the country’s spending on food’s importation increased from 10% to 27% of its export earnings. In addition to that, 70% of Yemen’s earning is coming from oil, which was also affected by the decline in international prices (1). these are some few examples of what was happening!!
There was another important point of Yemen’s tragedy, a study by the United Nations Development Program in 2009, showed that Yemen and Syria were the highest two countries in terms of income inequality, which means that people there did not have the same opportunity to access and benefit from national resources, accordingly, poor remained stuck in poverty cycle. This inequality can be noticed from the distribution of food insecurity levels. For example, the WFP’s study showed that, 27% of rural areas were severely food insecure comparing to 9% of urban areas. The same study explained, that most of food insecure people in Yemen in 2012, were between Smaller households, Women households, Uneducated households, Families dependent on support or agriculture wages. Furthermore, the study also reported high levels of malnutrition, as 47% of Yemen’s children were chronically malnourished. Hudaydah alone had 27% of suffering children, this percentage is far beyond the World Health Organization critical percentage at 15%. Children were in an extreme need for help since 2012!! In addition to all above factors, it is important not to forget Yemen’s worst factor ‘Corruption’, as Yemen’s global ranking reached 156 in 2015 comparing to 88 in 2003 (2). Corruption plays a major role in development, as well as in social justice, and food security according to FAO. Recently, The Economist statistics about Global Food Security Index GFSI in 2016 reported sharp falls in Yemen scores in terms of Quality and Safety categories, as Yemen’s score fall by 5.9 points which is according to them ‘The biggest drop for a country since the GFSI’s initiation’. The Economist also included, High Corruption, Absence of Food Safety programs, Urban Absorption Capacity, and Political Risk, as the most challenges impacting Yemen’s food security. According to the same source Yemen today ranking between 113 country is 100 in general, and 83 in Affordability, 109 in Availability, 111 in Quality and Safety.
All these factors caused a serious human situation for people in Yemen and almost half of population were already facing food insecurity since 2012, and what was the response in 2015?!! Missiles, Airstrikes, Rockets!! To increase the 44.5% of food insecure population to 55%. and to increase the percentage of children under five with Malnutrition to more than double UNICEF.As a response, many organizations today are seeking fund to manage the food crises in Yemen, For instance, the EU committed 12 million euro to FAO to deal with the crises, the project will include activities to generate income and to raise awareness about climate change.
It is important to translate the interventions to economical practices, special when considering its impacts in food security in Yemen; however, one could ask, to what extent this could help, while the war is still ongoing? Specially, when considering all the challenges that face Yemen, including the climate change impact in environment, as well as, the expectations of scarcity in food and water. Isn’t it more fair for Yemen, to get a chance to solve its crises in ‘peace’ or ‘less war’, to enjoy some ‘ less food insecurity’ before it’s too late ?!Food security can only happen when there is a balance between Social justice, Economic growth, and Environmental protection. For Yemenis, Food insecurity ‘before and after 2015’ is just a long ‘national and global’ story of ‘injustice’….