Yemen: After months of unrest, country reaches breaking point

Tuesday 20 September 2011, 3:30PM
By Oxfam

Oxfam says millions at risk of food crisis

Families in parts of Yemen are in dire need of assistance as crippling food prices and fuel shortages drive them to breaking point, according to a new report released today by the international aid agency, Oxfam. Already, one-third of Yemenis – 7.5 million people – are going hungry.

New research by Oxfam in the western governorate of al Hodeida finds that nearly two-thirds of poor people surveyed said they had resorted to skipping meals, and one-fifth had taken children out of school to find work to help the family survive. Many families are relying on a diet of bread and rice alone.

At a time when donors should be scaling up funding, some, such as the World Bank, are suspending aid based on political and security concerns at the expense of the most vulnerable communities.

The aid agency says a bolder response from donors is needed and is calling on them to meet through the Friends of Yemen – a group of interested governments, including key Western and Gulf States – to coordinate immediate funds for Yemen.

"Ordinary families are telling us they simply don’t have the money to buy even the basics,” said Ashley Clements, author of Oxfam’s report ‘Yemen: Fragile lives in hungry times’. “Many say they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. It’s time for Friends of Yemen to meet to decide what concrete action they will take to help the Yemeni people.”

Oxfam’s report reveals there is a major shortfall in humanitarian aid funding, as some donors have historically focused on political and security objectives in Yemen – leaving the poorest people out in the cold.

While donors have pledged billions of dollars to help Tunisia, Egypt and Libya rebuild their economies and meet humanitarian needs, the plight of people living in the poorest country in the region is being forgotten by the international community.

The UN-administered Humanitarian Response Plan has received just 57 per cent of its required funding figure of US$290 million for 2011. Nearly $58 million came from the US, by far the largest donor addressing food security in Yemen, but much more is still needed.

The World Food Programme is also facing a shortfall of nearly $60 million, around a third of its overall annual budget in the country, leaving hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people without the support they need. In recent months, support has come from Gulf States in the form of significant donations of oil, though they have the capacity to do far more.

Some donors have been suspending aid rather than scaling up. For example, last month, the World Bank suspended $542 million of aid including funding for desperately-needed welfare payments to some of the country’s poorest people because of security and governance concerns. However, some welfare institutions the World Bank funds are continuing to provide support to the poorest Yemenis.

Undoubtedly there are major challenges to delivering aid in Yemen but that’s true in many other parts of the world. Some of these obstacles can be overcome.

“For too long promises of support from donor countries have failed to materialise,” Clements said. “Donors have been hesitant to increase support for the troubled country and are opting to wait until the political turmoil has settled; but by then it could be too late.

“It is time to stem the tide that is sweeping the country towards calamity.”

Oxfam is preparing to respond to the troubling findings of the survey in al Hodeida through a programme that gives cash to families that are highly vulnerable or suffering from hunger, and in the longer-term will work to improve employment opportunities and the ability of communities to feed themselves. The programme is expected to support around 100,000 people.

Oxfam is also responding to the needs of thousands of displaced people temporarily living in schools in the port of Aden. The agency is delivering water, sanitation and hygiene programmes, which help 20,000 people in camps in the north. It is practical and possible to distribute aid to millions in Yemen, as the UN, Yemeni authorities, and many local and international NGOs like Oxfam are proving.

Notes to editors:

1.Author of the report Ashley Clements is available for interview from Sana’a. To arrange an interview contact Lynda Brendish on 09 355 7413, 021 052 9293 or

2.A copy of the report, 'Yemen: Fragile lives in hungry times' is available at

3. Photographs are available at and can be credited to Ashley Clements/Oxfam.

4.There are 22 countries in the Friends of Yemen group, including the United States, and countries of the European Union and Gulf Cooperation Council and Arab League. The United Nations, International Monetary Fund and World Bank are also a part of the Group. The Group was established in 2010 and has been co-chaired by the UK and Saudi governments.

5.Prior to the formation of the Friends of Yemen, a 2006 conference of the Yemen Consultative Group saw more than $5.5 billion pledged to support Yemen’s development. Yet by the end of 2009, less than 10 per cent of these pledges had been spent in country, due primarily to concerns over limited absorptive capacity, corruption, and a lack of prioritisation by the government. More recent figures suggest as much as 58 per cent may have been released to Yemen, but that as little as 10 to 20 per cent has actually been programmed.

6.One-third of Yemenis -- 7.5 million people -- did not have enough food to eat even before the current crisis took hold.

7.Oxfam has been operational in Yemen for nearly 30 years. Working in development, humanitarian relief and advocacy, Oxfam’s programmes cover nine of the 21 governorates in the country. We work with around 16 partners - local NGOs and civil society organisations. Our programmes help people in many different ways including improving public health, helping families earn a living, addressing the humanitarian needs of displaced people in the north and supporting women’s rights.

8.Oxfam launched its GROW campaign earlier this year, calling for international action to prevent a mounting crisis in the world’s food systems.