Lack of Food in Yemen Reaches Crisis Level
by Elise Swanson | UW-Madison
For almost three years, a crisis has quietly grown in Yemen. Since 2009, the number of people in the country unable to access adequate amounts of food has doubled to 10 million, and 267,000 children are currently severely malnourished in the country of under 25 million people.
Fighting in both the north and south of Yemen has displaced almost 500,000 people, and the conflict has not only made it harder for farmers to continue producing food, but has also pushed up the prices of imported food. In a country where most foodstuffs are imported, those price increases are pushing families beyond what they can endure in terms of price fluctuations. Parents are being forced to pull their children out of school to beg on the streets, and to marry off their daughters as quickly as possible in a desperate effort to stretch food supplies .
Sadly, calls for aid have gone unanswered — the current aid request from the United Nations has only received 43 percent of the funding asked for in its humanitarian aid appeal, which was only designed to reach 44 percent of those in need in Yemen. Saudi Arabia has been an integral partner for Yemen thus far, and Britain has pitched in as well, with both countries pledging millions of dollars and Saudi Arabia promising to support the Yemeni economy and military. The international community is being prodded towards ratcheting up its support of Yemenis struggling in the face of the food crisis by Oxfam, Care International, International Medical Corps, Islamic Relief, Mercy Corps, Merlin and Save the Children, all of which are taking an active and commendable role in addressing the growing food crisis in Yemen.
I must admit I’m a bit partial towards Oxfam, having just started as an Action Corps Organizer with Oxfam America in Madison, WI. But I really do think they’ve got the right approach — in two weeks back in February, they delivered cash to 100,000 people in remote areas of Yemen that allowed them buy food for their families lasting at least two to three weeks.
By providing families with cash instead of food, Oxfam not only helps hungry families, but also helps the local economy. Merchants not only have more customers who can afford their wares, but they also don’t have to compete with cheap foodstuffs from overseas countries that could undermine the food supply system currently in place in Yemen, which would force small farmers out of agriculture altogether and increase vulnerability to food crises in the future. And Oxfam will stay in Yemen for the long haul, building resilience among small and medium producers so that the population can be less vulnerable to food insecurity in the future.
Most importantly, Oxfam doesn’t go into a country thinking it has all the answers — it listens to local communities and supports their ideas and solutions. After all, who understands all the facets of the problem and potential solutions better — people living it every day, or people living thousands of miles away who are assured of a next meal?
Yemen was a popular news story last year, when Ali Abdullah Saleh was overthrown after months of protest, violent repression and heroism on the part of everyday Yemenis. It also floats in and out of the media’s attention as the activities of al-Qaeda wax and wane in that area. Yemen was also a major oil producer for quite some time; now, however, Yemen’s oil reserves are predicted to run dry in about six years.
Most of the money that’s going into Yemen right now is focused on combating terrorism, but there are demonstrable national security benefits from delivering humanitarian aid and increasing stability in a region. It’s unrealistic to think the United States, in partnership with the Yemeni government, can defeat al-Qaeda in Yemen by means of sheer force alone. And isn’t it better for us to be saving lives and fighting terrorism at the same time instead of killing people and fighting terrorism?
America is caught up with domestic politics at the moment, and with good cause. Our country faces some of the biggest challenges of our history, and we’re more divided than ever when it comes to potential solutions. Most of my focus right now is on Wisconsin’s recall election, which takes place June 5th. But we can’t focus on our own politics to the exclusion of other issues that affect millions of people, including us, and the food crisis in Yemen is one of those issues.
The people of Yemen deserve our attention as more than just a group who overthrew their dictator or who live in a place where al-Qaeda sets off a lot of bombs. They deserve our attention as people who don’t have access to enough food and battle malnutrition and death on a daily basis. As Americans, we have the ability to stop ignoring this crisis, and to go beyond saying how terribly sad it all is and actually make a difference. The only question is whether we will act on that ability.Elise Swanson is a NGJ Voices Contributor. She is majoring in Political Science and English, and hopes to join the Foreign Service one day. A native of northern Wisconsin, she hopes one day to retire to Switzerland, and pursue various, yet-unknown ambitions.