Food insecurity in Yemen grows as economy shrinks
Ongoing devaluation of the Yemeni rial (YER) and soaring prices are compounding hunger in Yemen, where some 16.2 million people already face food insecurity this year. Food prices have risen by around 60 per cent in some parts of Yemen since the start of the year, driven by the collapse of the YER and intensifying already inadequate food consumption – a measure of hunger tracked by the World Food Programme (WFP). In areas under the control of the internationally recognized government (IRG), where food has become most unaffordable, the rial fell by nearly 40 per cent against the US dollar in the first eight months of 2021, surpassing YER 1,000 per USD for the first time ever in July. As of end- September, it had surpassed YER 1,200 per USD. In these southern areas of Yemen, inadequate food consumption is now over 45 per cent. In the country’s north, where tight economic controls imposed by the de facto authorities (DFA) keep the rial relatively stable, it is around 37 per cent.
The devaluation of the rial is making it substantially harder for ordinary people in Yemen to afford basic food, an already difficult prospect given disruptions to market functionality due to over seven years of conflict, the displacement of more than 4 million people, and the impact of COVID-19. This is compounded by the high transportation costs resulting from high fuel costs and the effects of increasing global food prices on a country where some 90 per cent of food and other essential commodities are imported. The cost of the national minimum food basket (MFB) in Yemen – an indicator of the cost of living – reached YER 62,607 in August 2021, some 36 per cent higher than at the start of this year and nearly quadruple the cost in January 2015. In IRG areas, the change has been even more drastic, with the August 2021 MFB costing YER 78,136, around 45 per cent more than in January 2021 and 4.5 times its cost in January 2015.
With livelihood and income opportunities unchanged, people must now work more hours in order to afford the full cost of the monthly MFB. People in Lahj Governorate are worst affected, having to work 17 days per month to afford the minimum monthly cost of living for a household in 2021, compared to eight days per month a year ago. In an effort to mitigate this, in July food security partners aligned the cash transfer amount with market prices to facilitate families’ ability to cope with rising food prices. Yet keeping pace with such rapid price increases remains impossible given the daily fluctuations of the exchange rate.
The impact of this can be seen in the worsening Food Consumption Scores (FCS) across Yemen. A proxy indicator of household caloric availability developed by WFP, the FCS aggregates household level data on the diversity and frequency of food groups consumed, and is weighted according to the relative nutritional value of the consumed food groups. In 12 of Yemen’s 22 governorates, at least 40 per cent of the population experience inadequate food consumption, including five in which at least a fifth of the population endure more critically poor food consumption – Ad Dali’, Al Jawf, Amran, Lahj and Raymah. In the third quarter of 2021, while the food security level in Al Jawf Governorate is expected to be adjusted from high risk down to alert status, four governorates are expected to deteriorate from minimal risk to alert status (Al Bayda, Hadramawt, Al Maharah and Socotra). The situation has grown so dire in some places that some families have resorted to eating leaves in order to subdue their hunger, as highlighted by WFP in a recent article.
Food security partners have been able to increase their life-saving assistance in Yemen thanks to a generous $1.2 billion contributed by donors this year, although a further $797 million is needed to prevent some 4.8 million people from losing food assistance from October onwards. Crucially, food assistance must also be complemented by longer-term sustainable solutions, as the severity of needs will continue to grow if food is not made accessible and affordable for the average person. Alongside additional funding to deliver food assistance, substantive support is needed for Yemen’s economy, including through foreign currency injections, to sustain the importation of essential goods and prevent further devaluation of the rial, and consequently to enable people to selfsufficiently access the nourishment they need.