Economic crisis, conflict, floods, desert locusts – and now COVID-19 – could wipe out improvements in food security in parts of Yemen, UN agencies warn
Economic shocks, conflict, floods, desert locusts and now COVID-19 are creating a perfect storm that could reverse hard-earned food security gains in Yemen, warns the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis released today by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and partners.
The analysis carried out so far in 133 districts in southern Yemen forecasts an alarming increase of people facing high levels of acute food insecurity, i.e. in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) by the end of the year.
Acute food insecurity in these areas eased last year thanks to a massive scale-up of humanitarian assistance but all the good work could quickly be undone as the number of people facing high levels of acute food insecurity is forecast to increase from 2 million to 3.2 million in the next six months.
This would represent an increase from 25 percent (in February-April) to 40 percent of the population (in July-December) suffering from high levels of acute food insecurity even if humanitarian food assistance and access to those in need are maintained.
Drivers of acute food insecurity:
Economic decline is the main driver. Economic crisis and inflation persist with the local currency in free fall, rising food prices and a near depletion of foreign exchange reserves. For example, from mid-December 2019 to mid-June 2020, the local currency (Yemeni riyal) lost an average of 19 percent of its value against the US dollar, surpassing the 2018 crisis levels.
Conflict remains a key driver of acute food insecurity.
COVID-19 is affecting food availability, access and market supply, as well as income-earning opportunities and wages. Important measures to restrict the spread of COVID-19 have led to import delays, logistical barriers, and disrupted markets. Remittances from Yemenis abroad have also decreased by about 20 percent and are expected to continue declining.
New desert locust and fall armyworm breeding areas are emerging as a consequence of ecologically favourable conditions, including rains, and threaten food production in Yemen, the region and beyond.
Cereal production this year, for example, is forecast to be 365,000 metric tonnes — less than half of pre-war levels.
Flash floods have already had a devastating impact in some areas, and most of the districts along the Arabian coast are expected to be hit by cyclones in the coming months.
“The IPC is telling us that Yemen is again on the brink of a major food security crisis. Eighteen months ago, when we faced a similar situation, we were generously funded. We used the resources we were entrusted with wisely and massively scaled-up assistance in the districts where people were the hungriest and most at risk. The result was tremendous. We prevented famine. Unless we receive the funding we need now, we won’t be able to do the same this time,” said the Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande.
“The people of Yemen have already been through a lot and are resilient. But they are facing now too many hardships and threats all at once – from COVID-19 to Desert Locusts invasions. Small-holder farmers and families who depend upon agriculture for their livelihoods need our support now more than ever,” said FAO Representative in Yemen, Laurent Bukera.
“Yemen is facing a crisis on multiple fronts,” said WFP Country Director in Yemen, Laurent Bukera. “We must act now. In 2019, thanks to a massive scale-up, WFP and partners were able to reverse the deterioration in the worst hit areas of Yemen. The warning signs have returned and with Coronavirus pandemic added to the mix, it could get a lot worse if humanitarian action is delayed.”
“A dangerous combination of conflict, economic hardship, food scarcity and a crumbling health system has pushed millions of children in Yemen to the brink, and the COVID-19 crisis could make things even worse,” said UNICEF’s acting Representative in Yemen, Sherin Varkey. “More and more young children are at risk of becoming severely malnourished and requiring urgent treatment. Increased and sustained support is vital if we are to save these children’s lives.”
What do we need to do now?
The IPC analysis’s recommendations for urgent actions include:
- Ensuring continued and unhindered food assistance to save lives and protecting the livelihoods of populations facing high levels of acute food insecurity, including displaced people;
- Rehabilitating water infrastructures damaged by floods and reducing the impacts of future floods on water and irrigation systems;
- Supporting farmers who lost their crops and pasture due to pest and climate shocks (locust infestation, fall armyworm, floods);
- Promoting good nutritional practices at the household level through activities such as home gardening and educational awareness on food and water safety; and
- Strengthening early warning and general food security monitoring systems to mitigate the negative impact of shocks and enable a rapid and coordinated response.