The UN World Food Programme (WFP) will cut food rations to some 250,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Yemen by 50 percent from the beginning of May.
This is a reduction from 2,100 kilocalories (kcal) per person per day - the minimum food required for a healthy life - to 1,050 kcal a day.
“Reducing rations to IDPs is not a solution,” said Gian Carlo Cirri, WFP country director. “It is a last resort, but we have no other option.”
WFP is facing a funding shortfall of US$24 million in its operation to provide food to those displaced by fighting between the army and Houthi-led rebels in the north from August 2009 to February 2010. A ceasefire was signed on 13 February.
Cirri warned: “If you cut assistance to people that are totally dependent on food aid, it is likely that mortality rates will increase in the short term.”
“A silent emergency”
In a recent survey of households across Yemen, WFP identified over seven million “food insecure” people, meaning they had to struggle daily to find enough food.
Of these, 2.7 million were deemed “severely food insecure”, meaning they spend one third of their meagre incomes just on bread.
The effects of food insecurity are severe - 58 percent (just 1 percent behind the worst rate, Afghanistan) of children grow up stunted, physically and mentally, according to WFP.
The rates of malnutrition in Yemen are the third highest in the world at 46 percent, according to the UN Children’s Fund, which describes the situation as “a silent emergency”.
Total suspension of aid?
Despite the alarming statistics, donors have not been forthcoming.
WFP says it is facing a shortfall of 75 percent ($77 million) of its requirements to continue operations in Yemen. It may have to suspend all operations in Yemen before September - meaning that a total of 3.4 million people will not receive the food and nutrition support they need - unless significant funds are forthcoming quickly.
While some observers cite the global financial crisis as a cause of the funding shortfall, others point to the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, which received pledges of $9.9 billion, more than double the amount requested by the Haitian government.
Yet others point to the absence of traditional donors to WFP (including Germany, the UK, Canada, Japan and the European Commission) who are perhaps reluctant to write blank cheques in support of a government apparently unwilling to institute concrete political and security reforms.
“There should be a clear line between what is political and what is humanitarian,” said Cirri. “Humanitarian operations should be funded without any conditions… People who need humanitarian assistance are victims. They need assistance regardless of ongoing political discussions.”
Earlier this month several aid agencies and NGOs warned of a food crisis in Yemen unless donors came up with generous funding for IDPs in the north, and 19,000 refugees mainly in the south.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions