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Yemen: A race against time

Increased security and access is essential to avert famine

Story by World Food Programme March 16th, 2017

Yemen faces a devastating famine unless urgent assistance and access is provided to at-risk communities.

That was the stark warning issued by Ertharin Cousin, Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), during a recent visit to the country.

Children share a meal in Sana'a. Their families fled their home city of Hajjah. Photo: WFP/Marco Frattini

“It is a race against time, and if we do not scale up assistance we will see famine-like conditions in some of the worst-hit and inaccessible areas, which means that people will die," said Cousin.

“The root cause of the situation in Yemen is a conflict that should end. We cannot address the food security risks in the country efficiently without peace and security. We need peace in Yemen.”

Mayar Abdul Karim, pictured at Al Sabeen General Hospital in Sana'a, is fed through a tube due to her frailty. Photo: WFP/Marco Frattini

Cousin made a three-day trip to the cities of Aden and Sana’a. She visited nutrition centres, health facilities and food distributions, where she met families struggling to feed their children. She described the situation as "heartbreaking".

A mother and her child at Al Sabeen General Hospital in Sana'a. Photo: WFP/Marco Frattini

One of the women who receives food vouchers from WFP told Cousin: “We survive now on the WFP voucher, and if we do not receive it then we have nothing to put on the table and we will go hungry.”

The single woman lives with her father, who had previously received cash assistance as part of the government social safety net programmes, though this support stopped last September.

At Al Hamzi retail outlet in Sana’a, families can exhange WFP vouchers for a one-month supply of wheat grain, pulses, vegetable oil, salt and sugar, as well as Wheat Soya Blend – a protein-rich blended food provided by WFP through the local supplier.

WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin visits Al Hamzi retail outlet in Sana’a. Photo: WFP/Marco Frattini

Abdullah Mohammed Jabar and his family are among the millions of people affected by the conflict.

Abdullah, his two brothers and their families arrived in Sana’a one year ago, after fleeing violence in their home city of Hajjah.

They fled because of the conflict and live in an apartment of 22 people. The family receive food assistance through the WFP voucher programme.

Abdullah Mohammed Jabar (R) and his family are among millions of people affected by conflict in Yemen. Photo: WFP/Marco Frattini

Yemen, Somalia and northeastern Nigeria are all on the brink of a famine. Last month, famine was declared to be affecting parts of Unity State in South Sudan.

“The numbers tell us the story, with over 17 million people who are food insecure and approximately seven million people severely food insecure,” said Cousin.


Despite considerable access challenges, WFP reached a record number of 4.9 million food insecure people in Yemen in February. Because of funding constraints, WFP had no option but to reduce the food ration in order to to extend assistance to more people.

Plans are in place to reach all seven million people who cannot survive without external food assistance, but urgently needed resources – and access by sea and land – is required.

Porters bring supplies from Al Hamzi retail outlet in Sana’a, where families can exchange WFP vouchers for food. Photo: WFP/Marco Frattini

WFP appealed for US$ 950 million to support over seven million people in Yemen this year. Of this, WFP urgently requires nearly US$ 460 million from March to August to fully cover the food needs of the people it hopes to reach.

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