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Conflict-related disruptions to markets and livelihoods drive major assistance needs

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Yemen
  • February - September 2016
Conflict-related disruptions to markets and livelihoods drive major assistance needs

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Key Messages
    • Market disruptions and limited household purchasing power due to below-average incomes are severely limiting food access for many poor households in conflict-affected areas of Yemen. In the absence of improved access, food consumption gaps and the severe depletion of livelihood assets are expected to continue, in line with Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or Emergency (IPC Phase 4) between February and September 2016, depending on the area. Displaced populations are likely facing the worst food security outcomes. 

    • Yemen imports approximately 90 percent of the wheat required to meet its local consumption needs. Although improved import levels have caused wheat flour prices to decline compared to several months ago, the average price of wheat flour increased slightly in February 2016 compared to the previous month (5 percent) and was 7 percent above pre-conflict February 2015 levels. Given the expected effects of the ongoing depreciation of the USD/YER exchange rate, food prices will likely rise in the coming months. 

    • Conflict in Ta’izz is continuing to hamper the delivery of adequate humanitarian and commercial supplies to populations in need. As a result, February food and fuel prices in Al Ma’afer market in Ta’izz were the highest observed across all monitored markets. Although food security outcome data for Ta’izz remains limited, livelihood disruptions and poor household purchasing power are expected to maintain many poor households in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) food insecurity through at least September 2016. 


    National Overview

    Current Situation

    CONFLICT

    As of March 2016, intense fighting and airstrikes continued in various parts of the country including Ta’izz, Ibb, Al Bayda, Ma’rib, Al Jawf, Sana’a, Sa’dah and the lowlands of Hajjah. Sporadic clashes were also observed in other districts, such as Ad Dali’, Lahij and Shabwah. Fighting in Ta’izz remains the most intense, especially in the districts of Ta’izz City (Salah, Al Qahirah and Al Mudhafar) where a siege prevented humanitarian and commercial supplies (ex. medication, fuel and food) over the past several months, except for during a weeklong period in March when access temporary improved. Meanwhile, Sa’dah has been worse affected by airstrikes though these strikes declined significantly since the second week of March.

    DISPLACEMENT

    According to the Task Force Population Movement (TFPM) updates, 2.4 million IDPs were identified in January 2016, which is slightly below the 2.5 million IDPs identified in December. Due to an improved political situation, the number of people returning to their homes increased in the southern governorates, especially in Aden (300,000 people), Lahij (63,000 people), Shabwah (20,000 people), Ad Dali’ (16,000 people) and Abyan (9,000 people). Meanwhile, IDP populations increased compared to December 2015 levels in other areas, including Ta’izz (162,000 people), Hajjah (142,000 people), Sa’dah (64,000 people) and Sana’a (62,000 people). The governorates with the highest number of IDPs were Ta’izz (555,048), Hajjah (353,219), Sana’a (253,000), Amran (245,689) and Sa’dah (237,978). According to the February TFPM Report Infographic dashboard, 42 percent of IDPs were residing in rented houses, 19 percent in schools, 15 percent in public areas, and 10 percent in temporary tents or structures.

    IMPORTS

    With an exception to Al Mokha port in Ta’izz Governorate, which has been closed since August, other ports (Aden, Al Hudaydah and Al Saleef in Al Hudaydah Governorate, and Al Mukalla in Hadramaut Governorate) were open and functioning as of February. Based on data from FleetMon (Figure 1) and the UNOCHA February 2016 Snapshot on Shipping, Food and Fuel Imports, the number of ships arriving in Yemen had been steadily increasing over the past several months until a decline in February 2016. In parallel, monthly food importations were estimated to be 458 MT in February, which represents a 24 percent decline compared to January 2016 levels but a 99 percent increase compared to a low of 230 MT in September. Fuel imports in February met roughly 15 percent of monthly fuel needs, which compares to 85 percent of needs in January.  Amongst the four cross-border control facilities with Saudi Arabia, only Al Wade’ah-Al Abr has continued to be open throughout the conflict.

    INTERNAL TRADE

    As of March 7, 2016, the number of roads classified as “closed” or “difficult to access” according to WFP's Logistics Cluster Access Constraints Map had increased compared to January 19’s levels, particularly in the northern governorates due to ongoing fighting, damaged bridges, and security clearance requirements. However, alternative off-road or secondary routes are available in most cases. Additionally, FEWS NET surveyed traders as part of a rapid food security assessment in western Yemen in January 20161 and trader perceptions of activity levels along key transport routes are shown in Figure 2.

    EXCHANGE RATES

    Although the official Central Bank of Yemen (CBY) exchange rate remains stable, parallel market exchange rates collected by FEWS NET in Sana’a City indicate that the exchange rate has depreciated to 269.8 YER/USD in March 2016, which compares to 230 YER/USD a year ago (Figure 3). Pressure on the value of the Yemeni Rial is escalating due to a halt of Yemen’s oil exportations, a key source of foreign exchange that makes up about 70 to 75 percent of national revenue.

    COMMODITY AVAILABILITY

    Improvements in import levels during recent months have generally had positive impacts on food and fuel availability on local markets compared to the March to August 2015 period. An exception, however, is Ta’izz where security conditions and a siege on the city continues to limit trade flows. In general, the availability of fuel on local markets is less than for food due to current restrictions on fuel imports.

    WHEAT FLOUR PRICES2

    Yemen imports approximately 90 percent it wheat consumption requirements, which makes wheat flour prices and household purchasing power important drivers of food insecurity in Yemen.  Although wheat flour prices have generally declined compared to several months ago due to improved import levels, the average price in February 2016 increased slightly compared to the previous month (5 percent) and was still 7 percent above pre-conflict February 2015 levels. These price increases were likely due to 1) the depreciation of Yemeni Rial on parallel markets, and 2) rumors in late February that bank authorities would stop supporting better exchange rates for food importers, particularly relating to sugar and rice. These rumors resulted in increased demand for wheat flour by traders who were concerned about potential import issues in the coming months.

    The largest increases in wheat flour prices between January and February 2016 were observed in the Sana’a City (12 percent), Al Jawf (10 percent), Sa’dah (9 percent), Socotra, (8 percent), Hajjah (7 percent) and Shabwah (6 percent). Additionally, the highest wheat flour prices amongst all monitored markets were observed at Al Ma’afer market in Ta’izz, where February prices were 233 YER/kg, or 59 percent above the national average.           

    FUEL PRICES

    Diesel prices were either stable or declined between January and February 2016 on all monitored markets, except for in Sa’ada where prices increased by nine percent. Amongst monitored markets were historical price data is available for the pre-conflict period (Aden, Al Hudaydah, Amran, Hajjah, Sa’dah and Sana’a), diesel prices increased by between 21 and 100 percent compared to February 2015 levels, except for in Aden where prices were similar to pre-conflict levels (+0 percent). Gasoline and cooking oil prices followed similar trends and declined between January and February 2016 at most markets. Similar to wheat flour, the highest fuel prices were observed at Al Ma’afer market in Ta’izz.

    INCOME SOURCES

    In line with discussions with NGO partners and the results of 2015 SMART survey data, FEWS NET’s January 2016 rapid assessment found that the majority of respondents in all governorates surveyed indicated a decline in overall income levels in 2015 compared to 2014, except for in Abyan and Lahij where respondents reported no change. Additionally, respondents reported that a higher proportion of their income came from humanitarian assistance, gifts, and borrowing in 2015 compared to the previous year.

    In rural areas over recent years, cash crops sales have increasingly been focused on qat production due to this crop’s shorter growth cycle, which allows for cultivation throughout the year. As a result, qat production represents one of the most important income sources for rural households in Yemen. This continued to be the case even this year, despite the conflict, as demand for qat remains strong. Qat farms are mainly located in highland areas and are usually owned by better-off households, although labor work opportunities are usually available for the poor in the surrounding areas.

    FEWS NET’s January 2016 rapid assessment found numerous issues affecting the banking and remittance sectors in surveyed governorates, including branch closures due to proximity to ongoing fighting, cash shortages, and the complete halt of international wires in USD. In urban areas, remittance services were mostly functional, with the exception of Abyan and Aden where they were sometimes limited by security considerations; and in urban Lahij, where there was no functioning remittance office. In rural areas of Lahij and Al Hudaydah, however, remittance services were still fully functional and in rural Ta’izz, they were functional to a limited degree. In remaining surveyed governorates, rural residents reported traveling to the closest city or urban setting to receive remittances, which is more costly this year due to insecurity and high fuel prices. 

    FEWS NET’s January 2016 rapid assessment also found that public sector salaries and pensions continued to be paid in full (minus any bonuses or allowances) in all surveyed governorates except Aden, where only one post office location was disburses salaries. As a result, employees from throughout Aden were waiting in line for up to several days, and the office frequently runs out of cash. Social security payments were being disbursed in Al Hudaydah, Ibb, Lahij, and Sa’dah.

    FOOD SOURCES

    According to FEWS NET’s January rapid assessment, market purchases using cash or credit continue to be import food sources for surveyed households, although the proportion of total food coming from cash purchases has declined since 2014. Meanwhile, humanitarian assistance and assistance from family, friends, and neighbors have emerged as more important food sources over the past year for surveyed households in some governorates. 

    NUTRITION

    Though there have been many challenges in implementing national food security and nutrition surveys since the conflict started in March 2015,  SMART surveys were conducted between August and October 2015 by the Ministry of Public Health and Population (MoPHP) and UNICEF in Aden, Al-Hodeidah, Hajjah, Lahji, and Al-Bayda. The results of these surveys indicate that although the prevalences of global acute malnutrition (GAM) amongst children 6-59 months of age, measured by a weight-for-height z-score <-2 and/or the presence of edema, were similar to previous years’ levels, they still exceeded the WHO’s critical threshold (>15 percent) in Aden (19.2 percent), Al-Hodeidah (31.0 percent in lowland areas), Hajjah (20.9 percent in lowland areas), and Lahji (20.5 percent in lowland areas).

    During FEWS NET’s January 2016 rapid assessment, all interviewed key informants from malnutrition units of hospitals and health centers expressed concern that malnutrition is on the rise compared to the pre-conflict period. However, interviewees noted that in some cases, recorded numbers of cases admitted may not reflect this trend because some centers have had to turn patients away due lack of supplies. This is the case at Khalifa Hospital in Al Turba, Ta’izz, for example, where the hospital had run out of beds and therefore could only offer outpatient treatment for moderate acute malnutrition.

    FOOD ASSISTANCE

    The conflict has impeded the delivery of humanitarian assistance in many areas of the country due to checkpoints and mounting bureaucratic demands. According to UNOCHA Humanitarian Bulletin, 75 percent of districts had relatively low access constraints as of March 1, with the remaining districts facing worse constraints (Figure 9).  

    On average between November and January, WFP provided 28,753 MT on food assistance to 2.16 million people per month across the country. However, in February 2016, WFP declared that it would be reducing ration sizes to 75 percent of full entitlements during the first three months of 2016 due to pipeline shortfalls.

    WFP’S MVAM SURVEYS3

    Since August 2015, WFP has been collecting food consumption score (FCS) and reduced coping strategies index (rCSI) data through cell phone-based surveys in Yemen. Based on February 2016 data, more than 20 percent of the population in all governorates had “poor” food consumption, except for in Abyan, Aden, Al Hudaydah, Al Maharah, Al Mahwit, Hadramaut, and Sa’dah. Additionally, Al Maharah was the only governorate across the country where at least 80 percent of the population reported “acceptable” food consumption.  Generally, over the past several months, the percentage of the population reporting “poor” food consumption has been relatively stable, with the exception of Aden, Amran, and Marib where a general decline in the percentage of respondents reporting “poor” food consumption was observed.  Figure 10 shows the proportion of households with “poor” food consumption, on average between December 2015 and February 2016, compared to food consumption scores collected prior to the start of conflict in 2014.  

    Reduced coping strategies index (rCSI) data from the same surveys suggest a slight increase in February compared to January’s levels across many governorates although general trends have been relatively stable over past months for this indicator. Notably, the median rCSI exceeded 20 in three governorates (Al Jawf, Hajjah, and Raymah). Figure 11 shows the median rCSI, on average between December 2015 and February 2016, compared to rCSI collected prior to the start of conflict in 2014. As this graphic shows, the majority of governorates saw significant increases in rCSI compared to pre-conflict levels.

    Additionally, according to WFP’s February mVAM report, IDP households, on average, reported significantly poorer food consumption and higher levels of coping in comparison to non-displaced households (Figures 12 and 13).

    Assumptions

    The most likely scenario for the February to September 2016 period is based on the following national level assumptions:

    • For the purpose of this scenario, FEWS NET will assume that on the ground fighting and airstrikes will continue into the coming months at levels that are similar to current levels. The geographic distribution of conflict will also remain similar to the current situation with intense fighting and airstrikes in various parts of the country including Ta’izz, Ibb, Al Bayda, Ma’rib, Al Jawf, Sana’a, Sa’dah, and the lowlands of Hajjah. In the south, sporadic clashes will continue with armed groups such as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Conflict will continue to drive additional population displacements, livelihood disruptions, and poor market functioning in affected areas.
    • Oil production and exports will not resume during the scenario period given the continuation of on the ground fighting and airstrikes in the western parts of the country, as well as insecurity associated with AQAP and ISIL operations in Shabwah and Hadramout.
    • The USD/YER exchange rate, particularly on parallel markets, will likely depreciate during the outlook period due to reduced foreign reserves caused by the halt in oil exportations, the suspension of funds to the government from other countries, and the generally poor economic environment within the country at this time.
    • Importations of food and fuel, as well as overall food availability, will remain relatively similar to current levels, although with high fluctuations from one month to another. Import of fuel will continue to be less than for food due to fuel import restrictions.
    • Market demand will be atypically low as below-average incomes reduce household purchasing power.
    • The price of imported wheat flour and fuel will increase during the scenario period to levels that are similar to those observed in 2015 due to the effects of the depreciating Yemen rial.  
    • Remittances will continue at levels that are similar to the current situation.
    • Livestock sales will be below average due to the halt of exportation, trade route disruptions, reduced demand from local households, and a reduction in animal vaccination campaigns.
    • The availability of agricultural labor opportunities will be atypically low, which will reduce incomes from this source to atypically low levels for many rural agricultural households. Although qat production will continue to be relatively average and certain large farmers, especially those producing fruit and vegetables in Sa’dah and parts of Tihamah basin, have started using solar panel systems to run their irrigation systems given diesel shortages, most farmers will not have the financial resources to switch to these technologies. As a result, labor opportunities and wages will be reduced.   

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Although an increased number of household will be market dependent during the scenario period due to the lean season (April to June in many areas), household purchasing power will continue to deteriorate due to atypically high food prices and livelihood disruptions. While many households will attempt to cope by selling assets and reducing the quantity and diversity of meals, these efforts are not expected to enable households to meet basic food needs As a result, food consumption gaps to varying degrees are expected during the scenario period. More specifically, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are expected in Abyan, Ad Dali, Al Hodaydah, parts of Hajjah, Ibb, parts of Lahij, Sa’dah, Shabwah, and Ta’izz. Meanwhile, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely in Aden, Al Bayda’, Al Jawf, Al Mahwit, Amanat Al Asimah, Amran, Dhamar, coastal areas of Hadramaut, parts of Hajjah and Lahij, Ma’rib, and Sana’a. In eastern parts of the country, including Hadramaut and Al Mahrah governorates, household livelihoods have been less disrupted by conflict compared to other areas and are expected to remain in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity. Displaced populations are likely facing the worst food security outcomes.

    In January and February 2016, FEWS NET conducted food security research in ten governorates in Yemen: Abyan, Ad Dali, Aden, Al Bayda, Al Hudaydah, Al Mahwit, Ibb, Lahij, Sa’dah and Ta’izz. In each governorate, research conducted included non-representative household surveys on food security and access; market conditions; and the status of remittances, water access, agricultural production, healthcare and humanitarian assistance. Research on port conditions was also conducted for coastal governorates.

    2 The national average is based on data from six markets where price data is available prior to February 2015 when conflict escalated: Aden, Al Hudaydah, Amran, Hajjah, Sa’dah and Sana’a.

    Please note that cell phone based surveys are likely biased towards better-off and urban populations who have access to cell phones. These biases should be kept in mind when comparing these survey results with in-person representative household surveys conducted prior to the conflict.

    For more information on the outlook for specific areas of concern, please click the download button at the top of the page for the full report.

    Figures Seasonal calendar in a typical year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal calendar in a typical year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Current food security outcomes, February 2016

    Figure 2

    Current food security outcomes, February 2016

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 1. Number of bulk carrier arrivals per month, by port (Includes multiple arrivals for some vessels)

    Figure 3

    Figure 1. Number of bulk carrier arrivals per month, by port (Includes multiple arrivals for some vessels)

    Source: FleetMon

    Figure 2. Trader perceptions of key transport routes (January 2016)

    Figure 4

    Figure 2. Trader perceptions of key transport routes (January 2016)

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 3. Official exchange rate and exchange rate on parallel markets in Sana’a City

    Figure 5

    Figure 3. Official exchange rate and exchange rate on parallel markets in Sana’a City

    Source: FEWS NET and Central Bank of Yemen

    Figure 4. Trader perceptions of wheat grain availability (January 2016)

    Figure 6

    Figure 4. Trader perceptions of wheat grain availability (January 2016)

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 5. Wheat flour prices compared to the February 2015 national average

    Figure 7

    Figure 5. Wheat flour prices compared to the February 2015 national average

    Source: WFP

    Figure 6. Average national diesel price

    Figure 8

    Figure 6. Average national diesel price

    Source: WFP

    Figure 7. Average change in income by governorate

    Figure 9

    Figure 7. Average change in income by governorate

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 8. Global acute malnutrition (GAM) prevalences for children between 6 and 59 months of age, based on weight-for-height

    Figure 10

    Figure 8. Global acute malnutrition (GAM) prevalences for children between 6 and 59 months of age, based on weight-for-height z-scores, with a 95 percent confidence interval from 2015 SMART surveys compared to historical GAM prevalences

    Source: MoPHP/UNICEF

    Figure 9. Humanitarian access restrictions

    Figure 11

    Figure 9. Humanitarian access restrictions

    Source: UNOCHA

    Figure 10. Percentage of households with “poor” food consumption between Dec 2015 and Feb 2016 compared to 2014 CFSS results

    Figure 12

    Figure 10. Percentage of households with “poor” food consumption between Dec 2015 and Feb 2016 compared to 2014 CFSS results

    Source: WFP’s mVAM surveys

    Median rCSI between Dec 2015 and Feb 2016 compared to 2014 CFSS results

    Figure 13

    Median rCSI between Dec 2015 and Feb 2016 compared to 2014 CFSS results

    Source: WFP’s mVAM surveys

    Figure 12. Mean food consumption scores for Yemen amongst displaced and non-displaced populations

    Figure 14

    Figure 12. Mean food consumption scores for Yemen amongst displaced and non-displaced populations

    Source: WFP’s mVAM surveys

    Figure 13. Mean reduced coping strategies index for Yemen amongst displaced and non-displaced populations

    Figure 15

    Figure 13. Mean reduced coping strategies index for Yemen amongst displaced and non-displaced populations

    Source: WFP’s mVAM surveys

    To project food security outcomes, FEWS NET develops a set of assumptions about likely events, their effects, and the probable responses of various actors. FEWS NET analyzes these assumptions in the context of current conditions and local livelihoods to arrive at a most likely scenario for the coming eight months. Learn more here.

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