Nothing left for a rainy day as millions of Yemenis suffer

How UNDP and Yemen’s truce can help tackle hunger

April 4, 2022

On Saturday, 2 April at 7:00 pm, Yemen began a two-month truce agreed to by the parties of the conflict and brokered by the Special Envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg. And at the same time, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)-sponsored Yemeni-to-Yemeni peace talks is taking place in Riyadh. For the first time in seven years, these events give widespread hope among Yemenis that peace may prevail long after the two months have passed.

This good news could not come a moment too soon. The extensive humanitarian and development crises besetting the country must urgently be addressed as we are nearing a tipping point for the country of 31.8 million people.

According to the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Impact of War on Yemen reports, hundreds of thousands of deaths can be attributed to indirect effects of the conflict, not the battlefield. More people are dying because of hunger, lack of services, and degraded living conditions than of direct violence from the conflict. The protracted war has led to unrelenting damage to Yemen and its people and has degraded the social fabric.

The United Nations (UN) and those on the ground in Yemen continue to cry out about the dire situation and urgency, but multiple global crises have resulted in competing priorities. In March, the UN High Level Pledging Event for Yemen carried an urgent ask of US$ 4.3 billion to address the prevailing needs in the country. But sadly, a fraction – US$ 1.62 billion – was pledged and aid agencies must do more with less to meet the ever-increasing needs in Yemen.

What is worse is that the UN is projecting shocking food insecurity numbers by June 2022. The most comprehensive data collection exercise since the conflict began projects that 19 million people (60 per cent of the population) will face severe acute food insecurity and will be in dire need of urgent assistance. In short, two-out-of-three Yemenis will have no idea where or how they will get their next meal despite food being readily available throughout the country.

The bottom line is that as the cost of food continues to rise, its access continues to shrink. With reduced household incomes from years of unpaid salaries, and with less incoming remittances, increased taxes, and continued depreciation of the currency – particularly in the south – a family’s ability to purchase food and other critical supplies has been significantly weakened. This is simply devastating to a country that imports 90 per cent of its food.

For most people in Yemen there are no savings accounts, and nothing left for a rainy day. The majority of Yemenis live hand-to-mouth while the cost of food has skyrocketed and slips further from the most needy and desperate.  

Playing squarely into Yemenis’ food affordability is the recent surge in the cost of shipping. Shipping a container across the ocean has increased seven-fold in 18 months with bulk commodities spiking even more (March 2020 to September 2021, IMF 2022). And residual issues from COVID-19 have decreased consumers’ purchasing power even more.

Unfortunately, this will only get worse with the onslaught of the Ukrainian conflict as Yemen is dependent upon the Ukraine and Russia for over 55 per cent of its grain imports. Despite the markets being full of food, the increased prices of wheat, rice, corn, and fuel have hurled a heavy punch felt by poor Yemeni families.

Looking Forward: Using Development Solutions to Tackle Hunger

Our recent Impact of War report projected that it is possible to change Yemen’s trajectory in one generation in the absence of conflict. But we must act now to begin to shift this paradigm.

UNDP is responding with new, cheaper, and more innovative ideas across Yemen – approaching solutions from a holistic perspective. From infrastructure to shippers, to consumers, we have been working to find answers for Yemen’s food affordability crisis.

We are doing this by rehabilitating the infrastructure of Yemen’s major seaports to create more effective and efficient processes, saving a significant amount of time and millions in shipping costs benefitting Yemeni households.

Concurrently, and for the first time in UNDP, we are working with insurance industry leaders to create an innovative insurance guarantee fund for shipping companies that not only lower the cost for the shippers but will also lower the cost of incoming commodities like fuel and food for consumers. We estimate that through these efforts, US$ 250 million can be saved annually – a cost that is now being absorbed directly by the Yemeni consumer.

And in partnership with the World Bank and others, we are working with Yemenis across the country to strengthen their businesses and employment opportunities, ultimately allowing them to purchase food and necessities for their families.

We can make a significant change in Yemen by working with Yemenis to develop solutions for food insecurity that work now. In addition to what UNDP is already doing to improve household income and lower food costs, working to lift restrictions on Yemen’s trade and investment for non-sanctioned actors will result in an unleashed economy, and Yemenis will regain their dignity of employment and salaries they deserve. These measures will help address the ever-increasing food issue in Yemen, serving to ultimately ease the reliance upon aid and carving a path to build forward better.