Over 1 Million in Yemen Denied Emergency Food Rations

Aisha is an internally displaced Yemeni girl in Southern Yemen living in an elementary school. She is one of many Yemeni children who are suffering from hunger and displacement. WFP and other aid agencies need support in order to carry out child feeding and rehabilitation programs. (WFP/Abeer Etefa)

Over one million Yemenis did not receive emergency food rations in September because of low funding for the UN World Food Programme (WFP). The UN food agency depends on voluntary donations from the international community.

As food prices have risen dramatically in 2011, impoverished families have been pushed deeper into hunger. Reports have shown families resorting to skipping meals.

In late 2010 WFP drew up a plan to distribute emergency food rations to around 1.8 million Yemenis who were struggling to afford basics like bread. The idea was a safety net for vulnerable families to prevent malnutrition and disease from gaining strength.

Back in February, I wrote a letter in the New York Times urging acceptance and funding of the plan by the U.S. and international community. As 2011 evolved into a year of protests, instability, and skyrocketing prices, this food aid took on even more urgency.

However, funding has been so limited that seven food-insecure governorates (around 700,000 people) were not able to receive any distributions this year. The cuts deepened as 500,000 more Yemenis were left off the most recent round of food distributions in September.

About 1.2 million Yemenis who should have been receiving food rations from WFP last month did not. But this has been the reality of food assistance programs for Yemen. They have been underfunded as the hunger crisis continues to deepen.

In addition, WFP’s Food for Education program for children has only had two distributions in the last two years. Both of them have been limited and able to reach only part of the intended recipients.

This initiative gives children food rations to take home from school. It’s a great plan for eliminating hunger and keeping kids in class. However, this year’s WFP Food for Education distribution reached only 59,000 of 115,000 planned beneficiaries. The ration size also shrank from two items to one. A program that should be expanded to reach hundreds of thousands of additional children has been getting by on relative scraps for years now.

UNICEF also is suffering from severe funding shortages as they try to help Yemen tackle the crushing child malnutrition crisis. I have reported on these funding shortages on numerous occasions as children lacking in nutrition are at risk of lasting physical and mental damage. It’s clear that no favorable outcome for Yemen will come about unless child nutrition is made a priority.

Anthony Lake, UNICEF’s director, said this week, “Malnutrition rates were alarmingly high in the country even before the current violence broke out, and its impact on the poorest people has only been compounded by rising food prices and collapsing basic health services. Of 3.6 million children under five years of age in Yemen, at least 43 per cent are underweight and 58 per cent are stunted.”

Imagine if a generation of Yemenis were not malnourished. They could solve many of their societal and governmental problems on their own.

What if we gave them that chance? We could do that almost right away with a full supply of plumpy’nut to knock out all existing cases of child malnutrition. A food for education system would do wonders because school feeding promotes nutrition and learning.

If we take action on these fronts, Yemen has a chance for a prosperous and peaceful future. The alternative is to continue to ignore the cries of hunger, and children stunted in growth and mind. That road, we know, is full of peril for all.

Article first published as Over 1 Million in Yemen Denied Emergency Food Rations on Blogcritics.

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