The political upheaval in Yemen has made it harder for ordinary people to find enough food to eat, raising the prospect of increasing malnutrition, a top official in the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation said.
“With the problems Yemen is facing right now, there have been big challenges,” Abdulmalik Althawr, deputy minister for the agricultural production development sector, told IRIN on the sidelines of a UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) meeting in Abu Dhabi on 27 October.
Since February, demonstrators calling for regime change have taken to the streets of the capital, Sana’a; the second-largest city, Taiz; and other Yemeni cities – provoking a violent response from the authorities.
As Althawr sees it, some of the reasons the political crisis will have an impact on hunger and malnutrition include:
Fuel: A severe fuel shortage has stopped many farmers from irrigating their crops, as water needs to be pumped from wells. Those farmers who can produce do not have enough fuel to transport their goods to markets.
Insecurity: Buying, selling or marketing agricultural products in Sana’a is very difficult because of limited mobility. The northern half of the city, Althawr said, is practically a civil war zone between government troops and armed opposition forces.
Business: Due to the insecurity, many businessmen have stopped importing seeds, which will lead to less production next season.
Poverty: Even if food is available, many Yemenis are no longer able to afford it because of inflation and reduced income. According to the FAO, prices of main food commodities have increased by an average 46 percent since January.
Governance: The government’s food strategy has been stopped due to the crisis. “We work for two hours, maximum,” Althawr said. “Then demonstrations start and we leave – all of us. For the past three weeks, we haven’t gone [to work] at all because of fighting around the Ministry of Agriculture.”
School-feeding programmes: Those children who are not going to school – either due to the insecurity or because their schools are occupied by displaced people – are no longer receiving the nutritional supplements distributed in schools.
“It’s a very difficult situation,” Althawr said. “We’re afraid of the future. Next season, what will happen?”
An emergency plan to distribute 400 tons of subsidized seeds to farmers is supposed to start this week, he said. The government is appealing to the FAO for help in this regard.
Planned and ongoing FAO projects in the country – including initiatives to enhance agricultural planning and rehabilitate a watershed in the Ibb Governorate – have been frozen because of the civil unrest and turmoil, according to the FAO’s representative in Yemen, Fuad Aldomy.
Two emergency projects to support displaced people and analyze food security data “will start as soon as I can get staff into the country”, he told IRIN. Seven other projects included in the 2012 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan – valued at US$11.8 million – are awaiting funding from donors, he added.
Even before the conflict began, more than one-third of the Yemeni population did not have enough to eat.