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Flooding displaces thousands as agricultural season starts in highlands

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Yemen
  • April 2023
Flooding displaces thousands as agricultural season starts in highlands

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  • Key Messages
  • Current Situation
  • Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
  • Updated Assumptions
  • Projected Outlook Through September 2023
  • Most Likely Food Security Outcomes and Areas Receiving Significant Levels of Humanitarian Food Assistance
  • Key Messages
    • In contrast to earlier forecasts for below-average rainfall, the March to May 2023 first rainy season has seen significantly above-average rainfall in March and April. This is largely benefiting agricultural activities, with farmers in highland areas generally planting on time. However, heavy rainfall has led to widespread flooding in late March and April. Thousands of people have been displaced, and still more have experienced damage to homes and assets. Worst-affected households who are not receiving sufficient assistance are likely facing consumption gaps and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes.

    • Levels of conflict remain relatively low as peace talks continue. Additionally, the negotiations have resulted in the easing of several longstanding importation restrictions and inspection requirements in recent months, with both parties to the conflict benefiting. Despite this, economic warfare between the parties to the conflict continues. The reduction in oil production and effective blockade of oil exports from areas controlled by the internationally-recognized government continues due to the threat of drone strikes by the Sana’a-based authorities, and lack of fuel has resulted in worsening power outages in Aden in April. Parties to the conflict are expected to intensify competition to route imports through ports under their control.

    • Despite recent reductions in conflict in many areas, the economy in Yemen remains badly damaged, and income-earning opportunities remain highly limited. Given this and significantly above-average food prices, many households continue to depend heavily on humanitarian food assistance. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes are likely to remain widespread throughout the projection period, with an increasing number of households expected to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes in lowland areas during the July to August agricultural off-season. On the other hand, rural households in highland areas will benefit from the seasonal harvest of fruits and associated labor opportunities. In Hajjah, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes have now likely improved to Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) at the area level given the recent cereal harvest and favorable rainfall at the start of the agricultural season. Meanwhile, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are expected to persist in Marib (an area of continuing concern) due to the impacts of ongoing conflict, recent flooding, and sustained reductions in humanitarian assistance.

    Current Situation

    In early April 2023, shortly after the one-year anniversary of the UN-mediated truce, an Omani/Saudi delegation visited Sana’a in a first public meeting with senior officials of the Sana’a-based authorities (SBA). A key purpose of the talks was to initiate a high-level prisoner exchange between various parties to the conflict, including the internationally-recognized government of Yemen (IRG), the SBA, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). The prisoner exchange was a confidence-building measure aimed at supporting negotiations for a renewed truce and long-term de-escalation agreement. According to local news reports, the discussions resulted in changes to the draft truce agreement to include a long-term roadmap for implementation of key steps necessary for a sustainable political solution. Key agreed-upon elements of the roadmap included the complete cessation of military operations, the withdrawal of all foreign forces, the lifting of all restrictions on Yemeni ports, and the need to address humanitarian issues. However, points of disagreement were evident, particularly around the payment of civil service and military salaries in SBA areas, and around reconstruction and reparation obligations of the KSA. In order to resolve outstanding disagreements, a second round of direct negotiations is being planned to take place in Saudi Arabia with senior SBA officials.

    In March 2023, levels of conflict remained similar to the comparatively low levels recorded in recent months alongside the unofficial ceasefire. According to data from ACLED, 146 battles and 94 incidents of explosions/remote violence were recorded in March 2023. These totals were 48 percent lower and 79 percent lower, respectively, than the three-year average for March. In March 2023, governorates that registered the highest number of conflict events (of all types) according to ACLED data were Taizz (80 incidents), Sa’ada (63 incidents), Marib (62 incidents), and Al Hudaydah (45 incidents).

    Due to the decline in conflict, some areas have experienced reductions in access constraints. For example, after seven years of inaccessibility, the first oil tanker entered Taizz city via the newly repaired Al-Kadha–Al-Bireen road connecting the city of Taizz with Al-Mokha district. The renovation of the road has also increased humanitarian access to previously inaccessible areas. However, on March 25, an assassination attempt on the IRG’s Minister of Defense occurred on the same route, illustrating that such improvements may be short-lived without a complete halt of hostilities by all warring parties. Additionally, the presence of landmines in previously conflict-affected areas continues to restrict movement.

    Levels of conflict-driven population displacement declined during the truce and have remained relatively low despite its expiration. According to monitoring by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), a total 5,460 individuals were newly displaced from monitored governorates in March 2023. The majority (56 percent) were displaced due to conflict, mainly in Marib (2,568 individuals), Shabwah (1,794 individuals), and Taizz (678 individuals). However, a substantial share (35 percent) were displaced due to flooding at the end of March, the majority of whom were from Shabwah (mainly Rudoom district) and Taizz.

    Meanwhile, the IRG and SBA continue to engage in economic warfare. Competition for oil revenue remains intense, and the Sana’a-based Ministry of Oil has warned recently that international oil companies operating in Yemen must halt their illegal operations or risk being targeted by drone strikes. On the other hand, the prospect of a deal between the KSA and SBA has helped boost the Aden-based Rial, with the exchange rate against the USD improving to 1,188 YER/USD by April 13, the best rate recorded since December of last year. Despite the significant decline in government revenue due to the ongoing halt in oil exports, the Aden-based Central Bank of Yemen continues to hold weekly foreign currency auctions, offering up to 30 million USD in each auction.

    On the other hand, progress continues to be made on easing longstanding restrictions on imports in both SBA- and IRG-controlled areas. In late February, the SBA-controlled Red Sea port of Al Hudaydah received regular cargo containers of non-food items for the first time since the start of the war in 2015. More recently, on April 6, the Saudi-led coalition announced it would end inspections at the port of Aden and lift the import ban on 500 commodities (including four-wheel drive vehicles and trucks, vehicle parts, some chemicals, batteries, solar panels, military clothing, and communications equipment) that has been in place since 2018. With the reduction in importation restrictions, competition for imports between the SBA and IRG is increasing, with both sides seeking to motivate and pressure importers to use entry points under their control.

    On April 9, another batch of the Saudi oil grant arrived in Aden. Around 30,000 metric tons (MT) of fuel were delivered. In total since the latest grant began in November 2022, around 250,000 MT of fuel have been delivered. Although the purpose of the fuel grant is to support electricity generation in IRG-controlled areas, power outages in Aden have worsened in late April due to disruptions to oil production and high demand for electricity in the summer season. Blackouts of up to 15 hours per day were reported in some parts of the city.

    The availability of fuel for consumers remains stable nationwide, though prices remain significantly above four-year average levels despite some reductions compared to last year. On April 10, the Sana’a branch of the Yemen Petroleum Company (YPC) announced that official fuel prices had again been lowered in SBA-controlled areas. The new prices were set at 475 YER for one liter of petrol, down from 500 YER, and 550 YER for one liter of diesel, down from 600 YER. According to the Sana’a-based YPC, the reduction is due to the decreased cost of importation via Al Hudaydah port alongside significantly reduced importation time since the Saudi-led coalition eased restrictions. In the SBA reference market of Amanat Al Asimah (Sana’a city), official prices of petrol in April 2023 were similar to last year, while official prices of diesel were 41 percent higher than at the same time last year, according to data from FAO. Prices of petrol and diesel were 37 and 52 percent higher, respectively, than the four-year average. Meanwhile, in the IRG reference market of Aden, official prices of petrol and diesel remained generally stable in April 2023, at levels 7 percent and 2 percent lower, respectively, than at the same time last year, though 71 percent and 189 percent higher, respectively, than the four-year average. 

    Figure 1

    Import quantities (MT) of basic food commodities through all sea and land ports in IRG areas (excluding Al Mukalla) and SBA areas, in the first quarter (January to March) of 2021, 2022, and 2023
    bar chart showing that, in 2023, imports through IRG ports were similar to 2021 and more than in 2022, while imports through SBA ports were slightly lower in 2023 compared to 2021 and 2022

    Source: FEWS NET, using data from the Sana’a-based MTI and the Aden-based General Authority for Standardization and Metrology

    In the first quarter of 2023, a total 1,533,495 MT of basic food commodities were imported through all of Yemen’s sea and land ports. Of this total, 61 percent entered through the SBA-controlled Al Hudaydah and As Salif ports, a decline of 11 percent compared to the same period in the previous year. However, no shortages in food were reported, likely due to traders having sufficient stocks, according to the Sana’a-based Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI). According to the Aden-based General Authority for Standardization and Metrology, the amount of food imported through IRG-controlled ports including Aden increased by 32 percent in the first quarter of 2023 compared to 2022 (Figure 1). Although prices of basic food commodities typically increase seasonally prior to Ramadan, the cost of the minimum food basket (MFB) was fairly stable in March in both Amanat Al Asimah and Aden city reference markets, likely at least partially attributable to the recent easing of importation restrictions. However, food prices remain significantly elevated, with the cost of the MFB in March 211 percent and 607 percent higher, respectively, compared to the pre-crisis period (February 2015).

    The March to May first rainy season started on time and has to date been significantly wetter than normal according to CHIRPS remote sensing data (Figure 2). The March/April period was the wettest on record in many parts of the country. The heavy rainfall and saturated soil led to widespread flooding across Yemen in late March and April, with devastating impacts including loss of homes and property, damage to infrastructure, restricted access to clean water, temporary access constraints, population displacement, and loss of life. In late March, in Hadramout, flooding due to torrential rainfall caused loss of life, destroyed homes, and resulted in road closures along the main route linking Sayoun to Mukalla. In the second half of March and early April, heavy rainfall flooded the streets in Sana’a, Al Mahwit, Dhamar, Amran, Hajjah, Rymah, Ibb, Sa’adah, Taizz, Hadramout, and Marib governorates, with more than 9,000 families affected. More recently, in late April, flooding was once again reported near Sana’a, with localized heavy rains observed in southern parts of the country. Overall, the governorates that have been worst affected by flooding include Marib, Al Jawf, Taizz, and Al Mahwit. Households living in displacement settlements – including in Marib and Taizz – were among the worst affected by floods, with many losing shelters and any available food stocks.

    Figure 2

    Cumulative rainfall anomaly (mm), March 1 - April 30, 2023, difference from 1981-2010 average
    rainfall was above average over most of the country

    Source: USGS/EROS

    Plentiful rainfall and sufficient soil moisture has encouraged farmers in rural highland areas to start preparing and cultivating land for cereal crops on time beginning in March. This is expected to be generating some income-earning opportunities associated with agricultural labor for poor rural households. Meanwhile, most farmers in the central and northern highlands have completed harvesting of cereals and legumes as of April, while the harvesting of watermelons, sweet melons, mangoes, and bananas continues in the western coastal areas, increasing the demand for daily wage labor. However, farming households affected by floods experienced disruptions to planting, with some unable to plant and others having seeds washed away.

    From February to March, agricultural labor wage rates increased by more than 10 percent in Hajjah, Raymah, Amran, and Al Bayda but remained unchanged or increased by less than 5 percent in the other governorates. Despite the recent improvements in agricultural labor opportunities and wage rates, even working for 10 full days per month would be insufficient for agricultural and casual wage earners to afford the full cost of the minimum food basket in many governorates at prevailing March wage rates and prices (Figure 3). At the same time, working this much is rarely possible given the scarce job opportunities and high competition for available work.

    Figure 3

    Share of the minimum food basket (MFB) purchasable from 10 full days of labor at prevailing wage rates and prices in March 2023, by governorate
    lowest values in Abyan and Hadramaut, followed by Lahj and Taizz

    Source: FEWS NET, using data from FAO

    Meanwhile, the plentiful rainfall has led to improvement in vegetation conditions according to satellite-derived Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) data, particularly in western highland areas (Figure 4). Vegetation conditions as of late April are generally above average across most of the country, though below-average conditions prevail in some lowland areas along Yemen’s coasts and throughout the eastern plateau. The abundance of natural vegetation/fodder has likely contributed positively to livestock body conditions across most of Yemen. Additionally, although some lower elevation areas received relatively lower levels of precipitation, surface runoff from floods is expected to support water availability and crop development.

    In Aden, prices of livestock dropped slightly in March after peaking in February, ending a steady upward trend since August 2022, according to data from FAO. Sheep prices remained 11 percent higher than the same time last year, while prices of goats increased merely by 6 percent over the same period. In Sana’a city, prices of both sheep and goats have remained generally stable since October but are more than 15 percent higher than the same time last year. In Hadramout, where livestock holding is a main economic activity for households across different wealth groups, livestock prices showed mixed trends, with sheep prices trending downward since July though increasing by 9 percent year-on-year as of March 2023, while goat prices increased by 27 percent year-on-year, including a 14 percent increase since January. In April, however, prices of livestock across all markets have either remained stable or increased marginally due to seasonally higher demand with the advent of Ramadan.

    Figure 4

    Normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), April 21-30, 2023
    most vegetation is in highland areas in the west of Yemen

    Source: USGS/EROS

    Despite reduced conflict, the continuous decline in the value of income given persistent inflation continues to drive millions of households to be heavily reliant on humanitarian assistance, with daily wage earners among the worst affected. In 2023, WFP hopes to provide food assistance through general food and cash distribution to a target of 15 million people and to support 1.9 million people through school feeding and livelihood projects. However, the plan is only 20 percent funded for the coming six months (May to October 2023). Due to funding shortfalls, WFP continues to provide assistance distributions on a cyclical basis, at a frequency of around one distribution approximately every six to eight weeks in 2023. Beneficiaries also continue to receive reduced rations equivalent to around 65 percent of the monthly minimum food basket. In March, WFP and partners assisted around 6.4 million people with general food assistance. Of these, around 5 million people were assisted with in-kind food assistance and 1.4 million people were assisted with cash-based transfers. On April 19, WFP imported 30,000 metric tons of wheat grain from Ukraine through As Salif port to support humanitarian assistance in Yemen. This is enough to provide a 50-kg bag of wheat flour to nearly 4 million people. At times, delays in the importation of wheat flour can result in wheat flour rations being distributed later than the rations for other commodities in a given distribution cycle. As such, the latest wheat grain shipment is expected to help WFP ensure that wheat flour is included in the scheduled assistance distributions in the near term.  On a monthly basis, WFP needs around 85,000 tons of wheat grain, which are milled and used for in-kind assistance.

    Current food security outcomes

    The recently concluded harvest of cereal and legumes in the central and northern highlands and the favorable onset of the main cereal cultivation season has improved access to food and income among rural households. Additionally, many poor households have experienced improvements in food consumption during the holy month of Ramadan due to zakat. However, millions of poor households remain unable to meet their basic food needs due to above-average food prices and years of eroded coping capacity. Additionally, widespread flooding in March and April has caused many poor households damage to homes and property, including many already displaced households whose temporary shelters were destroyed. As a result, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes are expected to be widespread at the governorate level. In Marib, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are expected to persist given the impacts of ongoing conflict and large populations of displaced households who are highly dependent on food assistance and who were recently impacted by flooding. On the other hand, in Hajjah, favorable rainfall and the recent cereal harvest are expected to be improving household food consumption, with Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes expected at the governorate level. Across the country, households who lost homes and assets during recent floods are likely highly dependent on social support and humanitarian assistance to meet their needs. However, given the limited funding for assistance and the widespread impacts of the floods, the response was inadequate to fully address the needs, with many households worst affected by flooding likely facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes.

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
    Title: Yemen seasonal calendar Description: Land preparation is from mid-February to May and mid-June to September. First harvest (wheat, millet, sorghum) is from June to August. Second harvest (sorghum and coffee) is from October to January. Lean season is from April to end of May. Milk availability is from April to November. Peak water prices is from January to mid-March. Peak labor demand is from September to February. Rainy season – first cropping is from March to mid-June.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Updated Assumptions
    • According to revised forecasts, cumulative rainfall in Yemen’s March to May 2023 first rainy season is now likely be above average overall (whereas previous forecasts called for below-average rainfall) and, in some northern and central areas, extend later than normal. Cumulative rainfall in Yemen’s July to September second rainy season is assumed to be average, although uncertainty exists given the long lead-time of the forecast.
    • Vegetation and pasture conditions are likely to improve further through June 2023 due to above-average precipitation during the 2023 first rainy season. Following this, vegetation conditions will likely decline slightly in July following drier weather, and then improve seasonally in August and September/October after the start of the second rainy season. Conditions are anticipated to remain greener than normal throughout the projection period.
    • Given the good start to the agricultural season and plentiful rainfall, income from agricultural labor opportunities is expected to be slightly better than in previous recent years, but still well below pre-conflict levels.
    • Given the reduced costs of importation, fuel prices are now expected to remain near current levels nationwide.  
    • The provision of humanitarian food assistance is generally expected to continue near current levels in most areas. However, due to atypically severe funding shortfalls (with plans only 20 percent funded for the coming six months), further slight reductions in ration sizes and/or distribution frequency are likely to at least temporarily affect some areas. It should be noted that cash transfer beneficiaries (mainly in IRG areas) are more vulnerable to sudden pipeline breaks due to lack of funding, given that in-kind food is procured months in advance.

    Projected Outlook Through September 2023

    Despite the overall reduction in levels conflict, fighting continues to impact livelihoods and trade in frontline areas of the country, such as in Marib and Taizz. Additionally, the presence of landmines continues to restrict movement in areas that were previously affected by conflict. Though recent easing of importation requirements and consequent stabilization of fuel prices has facilitated some slight improvements in trade (both imports and exports), the benefits to trade will take time to fully manifest. Overall, much remains to be done before the national economy and, in turn, livelihoods in Yemen will begin to recover, and lasting peace remains the primary necessary condition for facilitating this recovery.

    In SBA areas, reduced fuel prices will continue to ease pressure on livelihoods dependent on fuel, such as in the agriculture and transportation sectors. However, fuel prices will remain well above average, preventing many households from recovering their livelihoods or re-starting businesses, in particular those dependent on irregular income sources (such as petty traders).

    In rural areas of Yemen, throughout the projection period, farming households will benefit from plentiful rainfall and irrigation water availability and, in SBA areas, reduced fuel prices. Some farming households in central highland areas will also harvest some cereals around September. However, in lowland areas, agricultural activities will reduce during the dry season from July to August, and many poor households are expecting to face declining availability of income from labor opportunities. Meanwhile, in coastal areas, the May to September windy monsoon season along Gulf of Aden coast and in Socotra is likely to limit income-earning for thousands of fishermen and others who typically generate their income through the fishing market chain.

    Overall, with above-average food prices and, in some areas, the likelihood of further disruptions to the provision of humanitarian assistance, millions of poor households who already face highly eroded coping capacity are likely to continue to face food consumption gaps throughout the projection period. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes are expected to remain widespread, with an increasing number of households likely to deteriorate to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes, particularly during the lowlands’ July to August agricultural off-season due to seasonally low availability of food and income. In Marib, sustained conflict will continue to restrict typical livelihood activities and trade. Given this and the fact that Marib hosts the largest population of displaced households, many of whom were badly affected in recent floods, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are expected to persist throughout the projection period. In other areas, households who were worst affected by recent floods and who are not beneficiaries of regular food assistance distributions are likely to continue to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes for the majority of the projection period.

    Table 1
    Possible events over the next eight months that could change the most-likely scenario
    AreaEventImpact on food security outcomes
    NationalHumanitarian assistance is notably further reducedThis would increase the number of households facing food consumption gaps and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes. The ability of communities to share assistance and provide important social support would decline. Should the assistance reductions occur by June/July, area-level Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes would likely emerge in several governorates by September. Governorates where a large share of beneficiaries receive cash transfers (such as Aden and Lahij) are of highest concern due to the greater vulnerability of the cash pipeline.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes and Areas Receiving Significant Levels of Humanitarian Food Assistance

    Recommended Citation: FEWS NET. Yemen Food Security Outlook Update, April 2023: Flooding displaces thousands in March as agricultural season starts in highlands, 2023.

    This Food Security Outlook Update provides an analysis of current acute food insecurity conditions and any changes to FEWS NET's latest projection of acute food insecurity outcomes in the specified geography over the next six months. Learn more here.

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