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Conflict leaves at least 6 million without enough food; further deterioration possible

  • Alert
  • Yemen
  • June 18, 2015
Conflict leaves at least 6 million without enough food; further deterioration possible

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  • Summary

    Ongoing conflict in Yemen, including major military offensives by Al Houthi forces and aerial bombardment by a Saudi-led coalition, continues to displace households, disrupt income-earning opportunities, inhibit trade, and prevent humanitarian access. As a result, food and fuel prices have increased substantially at a time when many households’ incomes have declined sharply. Information on current food security outcomes is very limited. However, a recent IPC analysis suggests that at least six million people are currently unable to access enough food and require emergency food assistance. Recently displaced households, remaining residents in Sa’dah Governorate, and poor residents in southern governorates are the most severely food insecure. While a more robust humanitarian response is urgently required, Yemen’s heavy dependence on international imports means that the volume of fuel and food required is far greater than humanitarian actors can provide. A full resumption of commercial imports and establishment of secure corridors to move commodities are required to assure food availability and avert a significant deterioration in food security in the coming months.


    Yemen relies on imports for 85 percent of its cereals, nearly 100 percent of its vegetable oil and sugar, and 37 percent of its beans/lentils. Typically, most food imports enter the country through one of two sea ports, Aden (on the Gulf of Aden) or Al Hudaydah (on the Red Sea). Since the escalation of conflict in late March, imports through Aden have stopped completely. Data from the ship-tracking service FleetMon suggests that while some Aden-bound trade has shifted to Al Hudaydah and the nearby port of Salif, the total number of bulk carriers docking in Yemen has declined from an average of 14 per month in 2014 to 9 in both April and May this year. Data collected by OCHA suggests a similar story, indicating that Yemen imported slightly less than 800,000 MT of cereals from March to May, a 22 percent shortfall (228,000 MT) compared to typical import needs during this period. According to OCHA, fuel imports were more severely affected, with imports from March to May totaling approximately 230,000 MT, just 14 percent of the estimated quarterly import requirement of 1.6 million MT.

    Due to conflict and fuel shortages, traders face great difficulty in distributing commodities from the ports at Al Hudaydah and Salif to markets throughout the country, particularly those in the south typically supplied via Aden. As a result, even with the decline in staple food imports, grain storage facilities at the Al Hudaydah port are operating at near capacity. As of the first week of June, some wheat grain was reportedly being stored outside of proper warehouses, risking spoilage. In addition, since May 7, a lack of fuel has prevented the major mill in Al Hudaydah from milling grain into flour. The halt of commercial imports at Aden, the inability to freely transport staples from ports on the Red Sea, and the lack of milling capacity have reduced the supply of food on local markets. While bread is generally available, WFP/NGO monitoring indicates that wheat flour is unavailable in Aden, and only sporadically available in many other markets. According to partners, the lack of additional storage capacity and fuel for milling is also discouraging traders from placing orders for more grain. Though preliminary, FleetMon data appears to show a decrease in bulk carrier arrivals at Al Hudaydah in June.

    Reduced availability of food and fuel has driven up prices to levels well above those reached during the political and economic crisis of 2011. WFP monitoring indicates that the greatest increases have occurred in Ad Dali, Raymah, Lahij, and Abyan, where prices are now between 75 and 114 percent above their pre-crisis levels (Figure 1). In other parts of the country, prices have also been volatile, with wheat flour fluctuating by up to 31 percent compared to last month. Prices for fuel also continue to increase substantially. Figures vary widely depending on the market. Where available, diesel costs nearly six times more on average than in February 2015, according to WFP. Petrol is nearly five times higher. In the most extreme case, in Raymah Governorate, diesel prices were reportedly 1,133 percent above pre-crisis levels. Cooking gas prices are up by 47 to 264 percent since February.

    Most normal sources of household income have been adversely affected by the conflict and related shocks. Payments through the Social Welfare Fund (SWF) have not been made since January 2015, and public sector salaries have been stopped or delayed in many governorates. Reports indicate that the demand for agricultural labor, a crucial source of income for many poor households, has dropped significantly during the ongoing season. Disruptions to financial services have also limited remittance flows in some areas.

    Households are coping with the current situation in a number of ways. First, NGO partners indicate that bulk purchases of cereals and household-level stocking is common in Yemen during times of crisis. Second, there is a strong culture of sharing available stocks between households. Finally, WFP food aid reached approximately 800,000 people per month in April and May, mostly in governorates neighboring Al Hudaydah. Together, these factors are likely to have partially mitigated the impacts of increased food prices and declining incomes. In addition, while information on informal trade flows from Saudi Arabia, Oman, and through smaller ports is limited, it is possible that imports through these channels are reaching some markets. Nonetheless, food security has deteriorated sharply since early 2015. At least six million people require emergency food assistance to meet basic food needs. Areas of particular concern with respect to displaced persons include Hajjah (249,529 newly displaced persons) and Ad Dali (212,317 newly displaced persons) governorates, where host communities have limited ability to support them. Other governorates of greatest concern include Sa’dah, where food security outcomes were already among the worst in the country prior to the conflict, as well as the southern governorates of Ta’izz, Aden, Shabwah, Abyan, and Lahij, where inflows of food commodities have been most disrupted.

    Unless conditions change significantly, food security prospects over the remainder of 2015 are dire. Under the assumption that conflict continues to limit food and fuel imports and distribution from ports to markets, further increases in food prices are expected in the coming months. Some foods may be unavailable on local markets most isolated from functioning ports. Household stocks, which have likely played an important role in mitigating food deficits thus far, are expected to be depleted in the coming months, if they are not already. Once stocks are gone, households with lower than usual incomes will be forced to rely on markets, where basic staples are expensive. Meanwhile, various factors suggest that 2015 crop production is likely to be below-average, despite average to above-average rainfall through mid-June. Approximately one-third of Yemen’s cultivated area is irrigated with groundwater, which is severely restricted now due to limited availability and high prices for the diesel used for pumps. The shocks in the fuel market are also limiting the use of tractors on larger farms. Reports have also indicated that the cost and availability of inputs have been adversely affected during the conflict.

    In this scenario, a rapid deterioration in food security outcomes for poor and displaced households is likely over the coming three months. Worst-affected households will be unable to access adequate food. These food consumption deficits, in combination with shortages of potable water and disease outbreaks, would likely result in an increased prevalence of acute malnutrition and rising mortality, especially among children under five years of age. The size of the population requiring emergency food assistance would also be expected to rise significantly from the current level of at least six million people, though the greatest needs would remain concentrated in southern governorates and among newly displaced populations. Large areas are likely to be classified as Emergency (IPC Phase 4).

    In the worst case scenario, if limits on income and assistance persist, household food stocks are depleted, and food is unavailable on markets for an extended period of time, Famine (IPC Phase 5)[1] is possible in the most severely affected areas of the country. However, it should be noted that background levels of mortality are much lower in Yemen than in Somalia, where Famine occurred in 2011, and South Sudan, where the risk of Famine has been elevated in recent years. This suggests that even if mortality rises sharply, it may not cross the Famine threshold.

    A substantial ramp-up of humanitarian funding and operations is required. However, the scale of food and fuel needs is beyond the capacity of the humanitarian community. Preventing further deterioration in food security requires a full resumption of normal fuel and food imports and secure corridors for both traders and humanitarian actors moving these commodities within the country.


    [1] The IPC defines Famine as occurring in an area when more than 20% of households face extreme food shortages, even with full employment of coping, the prevalence of acute malnutrition among children under 5 exceeds 30 percent, and the Crude Death Rate exceeds 2/10,000/day. For more information on Integrated Food Security Classification , visit

    Figures Wheat Flour Prices from selected governorates, 2nd week of June 2015

    Figure 1

    Wheat Flour Prices from selected governorates, 2nd week of June 2015

    Source: WFP

    FEWS NET will publish an Alert to highlight a current or anticipated shock expected to drive a sharp deterioration in food security, such that a humanitarian food assistance response is imminently needed.

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