Is the international system at fault for Yemen’s hunger epidemic?
I used to think of famines as an issue lost in the past. However, for the past three years, it saddens me to see that the international community has been deplorable in providing support to a country ravaged in violence, instability and at the brink of starvation.
Not only have governments allowed an entirely avoidable tragedy, but have enflamed it by proving funds, missile strikes and deploying troops for their own geopolitical agendas. This leads me to question, what are the causes that have led to these tragic current events and who, or what is liable?
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE FOOD INSECURE?
Food insecurity is a situation where individuals don’t have ‘‘secure access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food for normal growth and development and an active and healthy life’’.
To better understand the issue of food insecurity, not only in Yemen but numerous impoverished countries across the world, it is important to consider what the wider issues are that has resulted in this outcome. According to many academics, it is the multidimensional issues surrounding poverty such as; poor health, lack of education, unemployment, unpaid wages, political instability, conflict and environmental degradation that has resulted in many countries to be food insecure.
Are these issues rooted in neo-liberal practices? I would say so.
In essence, neo-liberal ideology has rooted a systematic, political agenda that affects people’s access to food all across the globe, but especially poverty-stricken states. The liberalisation of the global-market focuses on mass-produced, unregulated, monopolistic food systems, and with it comes the instabilities of huge wage gaps and devastating recessions. As a result, the corporate orientation of food systems has appropriated business from local producers, inflaming security matters.
WHY WAS YEMEN FOOD INSECURE FROM THE START?
Yemen, the poorest nation within the Gulf region has endured food insecurity for many decades, even prior to the conflict we seldom see on news outlets today. This is due to its poor political, economic and social frameworks. Yemen’s food security issues stem from the fact that 90% of their staple food (wheat) and 100% of rice, sugar, and tea is imported. Only 25% of Yemen’s food was produced locally, and whilst this percentage is staggeringly low, it provided at much as 60% of families with a stable source of income.
Since international airstrikes have destroyed much of Yemen’s infrastructure, and Saudi forces appropriating full control over the main sea-port, Hodeida, it’s plausible to assume the current famine will intensify. It is ranked 178/188 by the Human Development Report for food deprivation and it is no surprise that humanitarian intervention, whilst reasonably effective has its restraints. It is, in fact, the political market that holds the authority of investment and policy agendas that rule the global food arena, which is in need of transformation, if we want to make positive changes in developing countries.
THE IMPACT OF WAR:
Yemen was already a suffering country and it’s unfortunate to see regional and international countries are using it as a ‘conflict arena’ to exert control. The effect of conflict on gas and oil availability and prices has resulted in the failure of local food-farming. What was already a low-wage, low-yielding practice has been hit further. This combined with the blockade of Yemen’s sea-ports has led to its population to suffer an inflation of supermarket prices, whilst not having any means of income due to the failures and demolition of state institutions. The rapid deterioration of Yemen’s economic and environmental conditions means the food insecurity crisis needs prompt action.
WORLD FOOD PROGRAMME (WFP):
- WFP recognises Yemen as a Level 3 emergency, which describes conflicts as multifaceted, and in need of immediate global attention. This is to ensure relief and aid strategies and their implementation are conducted rapidly and at the highest of standards
- Current statistics provided by the World Food Programme outlined, out of a population of 29 million, 18 million are food insecure and 6.8 million are severely food insecure with no access to food without intervention.
- WFP increased its operating budget to assist in reducing the famine and begin to construct livelihood projects and community resilience in 2017.
- They aimed to provide food/vouchers for 9.1 million Yemeni citizens by March 2018, however, reports indicate severely food insecure individuals have risen to 8 million and those insecure remain at 17.8 million.
- Despite the aid provided by the WFP and other organisations, matters are not improving.
The facts indicate aid interventions are not having a significant impact on improving the situation. Why is this?
THE OVER-ARCHING ISSUE OF FOOD INSECURITY:
The role of the global market in the current food system holds the security and health of citizens across the globe. The food-desert that exists in Yemen and other poor countries is a result of poverty traps, aggravated by conflicts such as civil and proxy wars. Food insecurity can fuel poverty and conflict, whilst food security has the ability to manufacture resilient economic frameworks and can influence reducing violence within states.
Yemen’s food crisis has outlined the initial food security difficulties faced, are because of neo-liberal food politics, then exacerbated by the dogmatic rivalries of differing state agendas. To help the situation in Yemen, we need to act as a force of change and advocate the end of conflict and air, sea and intervention blockades in conjunction with constructive talks to rebuild and strengthen its political and economic structures. This will then pave the way to a healthier and more productive country overall.
I think it is important to empower and entitle citizens to food-rights by implementing dynamic and sustainable local food manufacturing programmes that are able to produce a range of foods. We need to recognise the interdependent relationship between poverty and food and see them as a key human rights issue rather than something that is a ‘normal way of life’.