22 June 2021
Families on the brink of famine in Yemen
Thanks to our partner WFP for allowing us to share this blog. Images: WFP/Annabel Symington
For years, Yemen’s been described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Then, at the end of 2020, it seemed it got worse yet again: analysis from the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) showed that, for the first time in two years, pockets of famine conditions had returned to the country.
Over half of all Yemenis — 16.2 million people — are food insecure. Over 5 million are at immediate risk of famine, and almost 50,000 are already experiencing famine-like conditions. But what does that actually mean?
For Hayat, 30, it means constantly worrying about how she will feed her three little girls.
“I was crying last night and thinking about where I can get food to give them.” she says, sitting in the makeshift tent that is now the family’s home.
“My daughters wake in the night and ask for food. I have to tell them I can’t get food. They sleep hungry.”
Hayat fled her village in Taiz, central Yemen, in 2018 after airstrikes flattened her village. Her home was destroyed. Her husband was killed.
She sold the gold bracelets her husband had given her daughters, now aged 4 and 7, to pay for a car to flee to safety with. She was pregnant at the time with her third daughter.
“My husband was a labourer. Life was hard.” she says, remembering her life before the war. “But at least he was beside me.”
With each year of conflict, life has got harder still for Hayat.
She now lives in a basic settlement in Mokha on the Red Sea Coast. The once thriving port town bears the scars of Yemen’s six-year conflict: children, too many of whom no longer go to school, play in the carcasses of bombed out buildings.
Informal camps have sprung up to host families like Hayat’s who have been displaced by conflict. The dust blown up by the relentless coastal wind is brutal.
Hayat is one of the nearly 13 million people in Yemen who receive assistance from the World Food Programme (WFP). The flour, vegetable oil, pulses, sugar and salt from WFP is all she has, she says. With no source of income, she trades some of her WFP food for other items such as vegetables.
WFP also supports 3.3 million children and mothers with nutrition supplements to treat and prevent malnutrition, and provides 1.55 million children with daily snacks in school — a vital nutrition boost that also helps keep them in education.
Each year of war has further eroded the ability of Yemenis to weather shocks like rising food prices. Having exhausted savings and sold what they could — jewellery, livestock, even land — many families now are reducing meals to one per day, or limiting their diets to the cheapest and most basic foods like bread and rice.
These extreme coping measures are taking a devastating toll on Yemen’s youngest children, half of whom are at risk of malnutrition in 2021 — that’s 2.3 million children aged under 5.
Meanwhile, the conflict continues to rage, displacing more people each week. Food prices are still rising, while the value of the Yemeni riyal fluctuates daily. A deadly second wave of coronavirus is only just abating, and crippling fuel shortages restrict access to healthcare and jobs, even preventing people from travelling to collect their food assistance.
Food insecurity will continue to rise in Yemen without continued humanitarian support. But ultimately, only peace can break the corrosive cycle of hunger and conflict that stalks the country.