The UN World Food Programme (WFP) office in Yemen has said food price hikes have increased the number of people living below a US$2-a-day poverty line, and hampered achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
[Read this report in Arabic]
Mohammed el-Kouhene, a WFP representative in Yemen, told IRIN that over the past three months an estimated 6 percent of Yemenis had dropped below the poverty line as a result of price hikes and drought.
"It is very difficult to give an up-to-date figure. The situation is certainly worse than what was mentioned three months ago, not only because of food price rises but also drought... especially in rural areas. We need to have assessments done to find out what the real situation is on the ground," he said.
El-Kouhene said the price hikes resulted in a gap of US$28 million for his programmes in Yemen, while WFP has a gap of US$756 million worldwide.
"When we prepared our 2008 programme, we based our projections on 2005 food prices. Based on that, the value of our programme was set at $48 million. Now, with $48 million, we cannot buy commodities for the people we planned to feed. The total cost of the project has now increased to $76 million. So there is a gap of $28 million," he said.
According to him, if WFP does not receive funds to fill the gap, it will either have to cut rations or the number of beneficiaries.
"Either way, according to our calculations, 320,000 people will be deprived of the food aid provided by our programme," he said.
El-Kouhene said about 30 countries had been identified by WFP as those most affected by price hikes worldwide, and Yemen is one of them. "The crisis is very serious. There are no magic solutions to this problem," he said.
Photo: Mohammed al-Jabri/IRIN
|According to UNDP, 15.7 percent of Yemens live on less than $1 a day; and 45.2 percent live on less than $2 a day|
El-Kouhene said the rise in prices of food staples had had an adverse impact on malnutrition - 40 percent of the population was malnourished, he said.
"The problem is not the availability of food but how many people have access to food. A family's whole budget no longer enables them to meet their food requirements. I am talking about a big proportion of the population who live on less than $2 a day," he said.
Yemen is one of the world's poorest countries, ranking 153rd out of 177 countries on the UN Development Programme’s [UNDP’s] 2007-08 Human Development Index. According to the UNDP office in Yemen, 15.7 percent of the population lives on less than $1 a day; and 45.2 percent live on less than $2 a day.
El-Kouhene said the price hikes had set Yemen back seven years in terms of achieving its MDGs.
"In the short term, we have identified some initiatives, some possibilities, such as encouraging more imports by the private sector, to help stabilise the market. Another solution is to import red wheat or mixed wheat which is cheaper and has a higher nutritional value," he said.
Ismael Muharram, head of the Agricultural Research Authority (ARA) at the Ministry of Agriculture, told IRIN that over 65 percent of cultivated land in Yemen is reliant on rainfall, whereas 30-35 percent is irrigated using ground water. Much of the water and land is used for the cultivation of 'khat', the mild narcotic, described by some as the bane of Yemen's development.
Photo: Mohammed al-Jabri/IRIN
|Over the past three months an estimated 6 percent of Yemenis dropped below the poverty line as a result of price hikes|
With only about two weeks of the rainy season left, there was still no rain, he said.
The second rainy season begins in late July and lasts till December. "The first rainy season is the actual time for cultivating grain. But the rains have not started... Farmers have been without rain for eight months now," Muharram said.
Yemen imports about 75 percent of its food needs, including 2.1 million tonnes of cereals each year.
"Last year's cereal harvest was 900,000 tonnes, but the country is not self-sufficient. It has no grain stocks," he said.
The cereals Yemen produces include corn, wheat, millet, and barely. Yemen used to be self-sufficient in cereals in the 1970s.
"The pattern of food consumption has changed: People in the highlands did not eat rice, preferring millet, corn and barley to prepare bread. Now soft wheat is preferred, instead," Muharram said, adding that if no long-term solutions are found "there will be a big catastrophe as hunger will spread."