Thu, May 24, 2012 - Page 6 News List

Yemeni food crisis ‘catastrophic’

MORE HELP NEEDED:Fighting in the north and south has displaced nearly 500,000 people and aid agencies warn that instability will worsen unless donors increase funding

The Guardian, London

Yemen is facing a food crisis of “catastrophic proportions,” with almost half the population going hungry and a third of children in some areas severely malnourished, aid agencies have warned.

A coalition of six humanitarian organizations — Care International, International Medical Corps, Islamic Relief, Mercy Corps, Merlin, Oxfam and Save the Children — is urging the international community to step up aid before Yemen slides further into poverty and political instability.

Yemen’s already precarious state was highlighted on Monday when a suicide bomber attacked a military parade, killing more than 90 people and wounding at least 220. The bombing, one of the deadliest in recent years, was a setback in Yemen’s battle against al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamists and it has heightened concerns over a country in the frontline of the US global war on militants.

The aid agencies — which point out that the UN’s humanitarian appeal has received only 43 percent of the funding it needs — urged delegates at yesterday’s Friends of Yemen conference to do more to tackle the food crisis.

The agencies say hunger in Yemen has doubled since 2009 and was exacerbated by last year’s political upheaval, which saw former president Ali Abdullah Saleh ousted from power after 33 years and replaced by President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

“Yemeni families are at the brink and have exhausted their ways of coping with the crisis,” said Penny Lawrence, Oxfam’s international director. “Failure to respond adequately to the humanitarian needs now will put more lives at risk, further entrench poverty and could undermine political transition.”

Her fears were echoed by Jerry Farrell, Save the Children’s director in Yemen.

“Political instability, conflict and high prices have left families across the country going hungry,” he said. “Unless urgent humanitarian action is taken, Yemen will be plunged into a hunger crisis of catastrophic proportions.”

Fighting in the north and south of the country has forced nearly 95,000 people to leave their homes over the past two months, bringing the total number of those displaced to close to half a million.

UN estimates, meanwhile, put the number of children facing life-threatening malnutrition at 267,000. Oxfam has also reported an increase in early marriage as families marry off their daughters young in order to ease the burden of the crisis.

Although the UN has asked for US$447 million of aid, it is thought it will increase its appeal substantially next month as the situation in Yemen worsens.

“The hungry of Yemen cannot wait,” said Hashem Awnallah, director of Islamic Relief Yemen. “Donors need to heed the lessons of the Horn of Africa and respond now before the crisis further deepens.”

Britain, which co-chaired the Friends of Yemen conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, has promised £28 million (US$43.9 million) of aid to the country, but warned that Monday’s suicide bombing underlined the severity of the situation.

British International Development Minister Alan Duncan said the aid — which is to be delivered through agencies — would provide both immediate help and a “foundation for progress.”

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