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Humanitarian intervention remains critical to mitigating more extreme levels of food insecurity in 2018

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Yemen
  • February - September 2018
Humanitarian intervention remains critical to mitigating more extreme levels of food insecurity in 2018

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Key Messages
    • Large populations in Yemen continue to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or Emergency (IPC Phase 4) acute food insecurity. As worst-affected households begin to exhaust their coping capacity, populations may begin to move into Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) even in the absence of additional disruptions. In a worst-case scenario, significant declines in commercial imports below requirement levels and conflict that cuts populations off from trade and humanitarian assistance for an extended period could drive food security outcomes in line with Famine (IPC Phase 5).

    • Large-scale humanitarian assistance continues to play an important role in reducing the severity of acute food insecurity outcomes in Yemen. In 2017, the humanitarian community reached on average nearly six million beneficiaries, and that number is increasing in 2018. Current funding for emergency food assistance in Yemen is expected to be sufficient to provide assistance at current levels only through May 2018.

    • Yemen’s main seaports (Al Hudaydah, Salif, Aden, Al Mukalla) remain open and inflows of commercial and humanitarian imports have continued into March. However, import levels are broadly below pre-blockade levels and less than monthly food and fuel import requirements.

    National Overview
    Current Situation


    More than two million Yemenis remain internally displaced due to conflict, with nearly 90 percent displaced for more than one year. According to UNHCR, as of 9 February, about 85,000 people had been displaced since December 2017 due to the ongoing conflict, mostly in Yemen’s west coast and in particular from the districts of Al Khawkhah, Al Garrahi and Hays in southern Hudaydah, and Mokha and Mawza in Ta’izz. More than 21,000 of those fleeing violence from the west coast have fled to Abyan, more than 12,300 and 13,600 have been newly displaced within Al Hudaydah and Ta’izz governorates, respectively, and others have fled to Lahj, Al Mahrah, Aden, Ibb, Dhamar, Hadramaut, and Shabwah.

    Macroeconomic conditions

    The macroeconomic situation in Yemen continues to deteriorate. According the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation (MOPIC), Yemen’s gross domestic product (GDP) decreased by about 10.9 percent in 2017 as a result of the ongoing war, displacement, emigration from Yemen, and loss of confidence in the future of the national economy. The decline in exports, as well as oil and gas production, are some of the major factors responsible for the economic downturn. The severe liquidity crisis in the banking system is also a contributing factor. The public budget crisis has resulted in unpaid salaries for most public employees and retirees and the disruption of public service programs.

    The Yemeni Riyal initially gained in strength after Saudi Arabia announced the deposit of $2 billion USD in the Central Bank of Yemen, strengthening from 505 YER/USD to 425 YER/USD. However, it has since resumed depreciation and was again worth 480 YER/USD by the fourth week of February according to exchange rate data collected in Sana’a City. Following the deposit, the Central Bank of Yemen in Aden disseminated a circular setting the exchange rate to 379 YER/USD and requesting exchange bureaus commit to that rate. Nonetheless, the value of the Yemeni Rial has continued to decline and is now worth about 40 percent of its value compared to this time last year.


    In a typical year, over 90 percent of food supplies and 80 percent of cereal supplies in Yemen are imported (FAOSTAT), mostly via commercial marine imports. The national cereal import requirement in 2017 was estimated at about 4.3 million tons, including 3.2 million tons of wheat and 400,000 tons of rice (FAO). Data from the Food Security Technical Secretariat (FSTS) suggests about 3.58 million tons of wheat and 477,945 tons of rice were imported between January and December 2017, with 60 percent, 28 percent, and 8 percent of the total imports coming through Al Hudaydah & Salif, Aden and Mukalla ports respectively. Data from UNVIM (Figure 1) suggests imports were slightly less, but still close to requirement levels. Ship arrival information monitored by FEWS NET suggests that the number of arrivals of bulk carriers, which typically transport most staple cereals, in the ports of Al Hudaydah, Salif, Aden, and Al Mukalla slightly decreased in 2017 compared to 2016 (-9.7 percent) but was similar to 2014.

    Yemen’s major seaports remain open following the blockade on imports in late 2017, but imports of fuel – and possibly food – remain well below required levels. According to UNVIM, only 262,580 tons of food and 119,612 tons of fuel were discharged at the ports of Al Hudaydah and Salif in January, a 29% decrease for food and a 38% decrease for fuel respectively compared to the average monthly quantity imported during the six months (May to October) prior to the blockade. The decrease is attributed to the impact of the blockade on the shipping community and the long clearance procedure. The average processing time for vessels entering Yemen’s Red Sea ports in January 2018 increased 4.6 days; on average vessels are taking approximately 15 days to complete the full process of obtaining clearances, entering the ports, discharging, and exiting the ports which is resulting in increased shipping and demurrage costs. The 30-day extension which the Saudi-led Coalition announced on January 19 to keep Al Hudaydah and Salif port open to all commercial and humanitarian imports has expired but imports appear to be continuing.

    Recent reporting by WFP has also raised concern that food imports are far enough below required levels to significantly impact food availability in the medium term. In early February 2018, WFP reported that stocks of staple cereals (including wheat grain, wheat flour, and rice) in Yemen totaled approximately 784,000 MT, 30 percent lower than levels reported in the Food Security and Agriculture Cluster’s Food Availability Brief from November 1, 2017, prior to the blockade. By mid-February, WFP reported that stock levels were at approximately 630,000 MT, another 20 percent decline from just a few weeks earlier. Although it is unclear whether the information collected by WFP and the FSAC are directly comparable, reports of declines in stock levels to this degree are a source of concern.

    Internal trade

    Conflict and insecurity has made road access more difficult in Yemen, with the Yemen Logistics Cluster reporting in mid-January 2018 that major roads were closed or difficult to access in the southwest (Al Hudaydah and Ta’izz governorates), the northwest (Hajjah, Sa’ada, and the western part of Al Jawf governorates) and central areas (Al Bayda, Marib, and Sana’a governorates). Compared to previous reporting in December by the Logistics Cluster, road access has improved in the southern part of Al Hudaydah governorate, and in Hajjah and Sa’ada governorates but has worsened in Al Bayda, Marib, and Sana’a governorates. Rapid assessments in October 2017 had indicated some or significant disruptions on most major roads and minimal or no activity on the coastal road between Al Hudaydah City and Aden (Figure 2). Although market activity is reported to be normal, with the exception of some disruptions reported in Abyan, Al Bayda and Al Mahwit governorates (Figure 3), a study from the Cash and Market Working Group (CMWG) conducted in August/September 2017 suggests that increasing fuel costs were already a concern even before the blockade in late 2018 further restricted fuel supply.

    While the availability of commodities on markets did not yet change significantly between December 2017 and January 2018, availability had already declined significantly across most monitored markets compared to previous months according to WFP Market Watch Reports. In January 2018, wheat flour was rated as “sparsely available” (found in at least half of the visits to all markets of the governorate) in most governorates in Yemen except in Abyan, Aden, Al Mahra, Al Jawf, Hadramout, Lahj and Socotra where it was rated as “available” (found available at every visit in all markets of the governorate). Rapid assessments

    previous to the blockade in October 2017 had indicated that wheat flour was considered available in Abyan, Aden, Al Hudaydah, Al Mahwit and Lahij, somewhat available in Ad Dali, Ibb, Sa’ada and Ta’izz and somewhat scarce in Al Bayda.

    Fuel (diesel, gasoline and cooking oil) was “sparsely available” on over 80 percent of the markets assessed by WFP in December 2017 and January 2018 despite recent improved levels of imports. Earlier in 2017, WFP had assessed fuel as being “available” or “widely available” on about 70 percent of markets. Diesel, gasoline, cooking oil availability was most concerning in Aden, Al Hudaydah, Ibb, Ta’izz, Ad Dali, Al Bayda, Al Mahwit, Lahj, Abyan, and Sa’ada where it was somewhat available or scarce.

    Fuel prices

    Given the recent improvements in fuel imports, fuel prices on most markets were either stable or decreased between December 2017 and January 2018, but they still remain more than double pre-conflict levels. The exception is in Hadramout

    Governorate, where in January fuel prices increased significantly compared to December. The highest fuel prices in the country were observed in the following governorates: Raymah for cooking gas, Marib and Ta’izz for diesel and Marib for gasoline. Fuel prices have been high and volatile in Yemen since March 2015 as a result of the ongoing conflict and reduced imports, and despite low global fuel prices. Increased fuel prices are negatively affecting typical livelihood activities, such as agriculture, and contributing to increased prices of food and non-food commodities through higher transaction costs. High prices and limited availability, particularly in late 2017, also has constricted water access as many areas rely on pumping water for human use.

    Wheat flour prices

    Wheat flour prices remain above average across major markets in Yemen, and have remained stable or increased on most markets in recent months. According to WFP price monitoring, on the major import and consumption markets of Sana’a City (Figure 4), Aden, and Al Hudaydah (Figure 5) wheat flour prices were 45 to 70 percent higher in January 2018 than in the months prior to the start of conflict in March 2015, and were 25 to 30 percent higher than in October 2017 before the blockade. Wheat flour prices in January 2018 were highest in Shabwah and Ta’izz at 265 YER/Kg and 250 YER/Kg, respectively, and the lowest in Socotra at 150 YER/Kg. In general, wheat flour prices in almost all governorates continue to closely follow trends observed in the major import and consumption markets, except on Al Ma’effer market in Ta’izz and Attaq market in Shabwah, where prices remain volatile.

    Income sources

    The persistent conflict and water scarcity continue to significantly compromise livelihoods and production in the agricultural sector. According to FAO, almost all governorates are reporting shortages and high prices of agricultural inputs. In addition, remotely sensed weather information suggests below-average and poorly distributed rains during the 2017 agricultural season. Total cereal production in 2017 is forecast at 335,000 tons, about 8 percent below last year’s harvest and about half of the five-year average. Specialists working in agricultural offices in Ibb and Ta’izz expect even larger reductions in agricultural production in the highlands. According to FAO, many rural households appear to be increasingly relying on casual labor opportunities as their main source of income although in most conflict-affected areas, hired agricultural labor tends to be replaced by other casual labor in order to cope with the increased costs of production. FAO also reports that approximately 45 percent of households have reduced their livestock herd sizes either intentionally to cover other needs, such as health and food, or due to animal diseases. Livestock to cereal terms of trade declined significantly following the blockade, and remain slightly below-average on most markets (Figure 6). Income from sales of produce has also declined as a result of the lack of marketing channels, resulting in depressed farm-gate prices and higher sale prices in the urban areas.

    Household incomes from other sources remain well below average. Many government employees continue to not receive regular salaries or pensions due to the Central Banks’ lack of adequate financial resources. Rapid assessments conducted in October 2017 found that remittance offices were functioning in urban areas but that liquidity issues limited the ability of some offices to process these remittances. Between August and November 2017, UNICEF reached more than 1.3 million households under the Social Welfare Fund cash program. The average cash transfer was YER 15,000/quarter. The next round of transfers under the program is expected in March.

    Food sources

    Market purchase using cash or credit continues to be an important food sources for most, although access remains significantly restricted by high food prices and low incomes. Humanitarian assistance and assistance from family, friends, and neighbors is also increasingly an important food sources over the past year in many governorates.

    Partner reports continue to suggest that households are increasingly relying on food donations, buying food on credit and resorting to other consumption-based coping strategies. According to a rapid needs assessment conducted by Human Appeal in September 2017 in randomly selected villages in Abyan, Hajjah and Sana’a governorates, credit purchases were the main source of food for over half of the households and the leading cause of household debt. The majority of households surveyed also reported relying on less preferred and expensive food (75 percent) and borrowing food or relying on help from friends or relatives (84 percent). Similarly, a rapid assessment conducted by CARE in November in the Ash-Shamaytan, Sama and Al Maafer districts in Ta’izz reported that a majority of households are relying on a less preferred and less expensive food (94 percent) and borrowing food, or relying on help from friends or relatives (71 percent). Key food sources for IDP households are humanitarian assistance and donations by the host community, according to assessments conducted between September and December 2017 by Action Against Hunger and the Abs Development Organization in Abyan, Aden, Hajjah, and Lahj.

    Humanitarian assistance

    Large-scale humanitarian assistance continues to play an important role in reducing higher levels of food insecurity outcomes. In December 2017 and January 2018, WFP reached over 6.5 and 6.9 million people, respectively, with emergency food assistance. In addition to WFP, local and international actors continue to operate food distribution or cash transfer programs throughout the country. On January 22, the Saudi-led Coalition launched the Yemen Comprehensive Humanitarian Operations (YCHO) plan, committing to support humanitarian operations and improve and expand existing infrastructure to enhance the flow and delivery of humanitarian aid and commercial goods.

    Humanitarian movements and operations have been increasingly limited by conflict since December 2017. The humanitarian response has been primarily delayed by violence in Aden, Al Hudaydah, Sana’a City and Ta’izz governorates, although routine humanitarian activities have also been affected in other governorates. For example, vaccination and field missions in Ad Dali and Lahj governorates were temporarily halted as a result of the violence in Aden. In addition, some humanitarian organizations suspended their operations in Al Hudaydah City, Amran, Hajjah, Sa’ada, Ta’izz City, and parts of Al Jawf when armed clashes and airstrikes escalated in Sana’a City in the first week of December 2017, where many of their warehouses are located, and resumed immediately after the clashes stopped in mid-December 2017.

    Cholera and diphtheria outbreaks

    The weekly number of new cholera cases has been decreasing in Yemen for 25 consecutive weeks and the weekly proportion of severe cases has significantly decreased, representing now only 11 percent of the admitted cases. Between April 27, 2017 and February 25, 2018, 1,069,197 suspected cases were reported. However, as fuel shortages continue to limit water availability, and as cholera is linked to poor water sanitation and hygiene, further increases in the cholera caseload are possible.

    The diphtheria outbreak continues to spread, affecting 179 districts in 20 governorates in March 2018, according to Yemen’s Ministry of Public Health and Population (MOPHP). Over 1,265 suspected cases and 73 associated deaths have been recorded since mid-August 2017, more than half in the governorates of Ibb and Al Hudaydah, mainly due to low vaccination rates and poor access to medical care.

    Current food security outcomes

    In general, WFP’s mobile Vulnerability and Assessment Mapping (mVAM) data suggest food security outcomes are similar to previous months or last year’s levels in most governorates. Between November 2017 and January 2018, WFP’s mVAM surveys found that, on average, more than 20 percent of households reported “poor” Food Consumption Scores (FCS) in 14 governorates (Abyan, Al Bayda, Ad Dali, Al Jawf, Al Mahwit, Amran, Dhamar, Hajjah, Ibb, Lahj, Marib, Raymah, Sanaa, and Ta’izz). WFP’s mVAM reports have consistently indicated that a higher proportion of IDP respondents report poor FCS in comparison to non-displaced populations. Meanwhile, the overall use of negative food-related coping strategies remained stable between November and January, indicative of no significant improvement in household food security after the suspension of the blockade. Approximately three quarters of respondents reported purchasing less expensive food and limiting portion sizes while 60 percent reduced the number of meals and restricted adult consumption, and more than half borrowed food.


    The most likely scenario for the February to September 2018 period is based on the following national level assumptions:

    • Conflict: For the purpose of this scenario, FEWS NET assumes that recent increases in conflict will be maintained and will continue to drive increases in displacement through at least September 2018.
    • Economy: For the most likely scenario, FEWS NET assumes that the current macroeconomic crisis will continue. More specifically:
    • Central Bank: The Central Bank’s current split in management will continue. The Central Bank will not receive any additional major funding from external donors and will not provide credit to the private sector for food importation during the scenario period.
    • Oil Exports: Oil exports will not return to pre-conflict levels during the scenario period.
    • Foreign reserves: Despite Saudi Arabia’s recent deposits in Yemen’s Central Bank, foreign reserves within the country will continue to decline compared to current levels, given the assumptions of significantly reduced oil exports and no additional funding from external donors.
    • Exchange rate: Given the decline in foreign reserves, the YER will continue to depreciate against foreign currencies due to the inability of the two central banks to intervene due to operational constraints and the shortage of hard currency.
    • Liquidity constraints: Liquidity constraints at banks within Yemen will continue to worsen and will limit general economic activities and complicate import activities.
      • Imports: Cargo will continue arriving into Al Hudaydah, Salif, Aden, and Al Mukalla ports. Cargo arriving into Al Mokha will remain limited. While large traders will continue to find alternative methods of accessing foreign currency to continue operations, import levels will likely remain volatile and transaction costs associated with these imports will increase. Informal food flows across land borders will also continue at status quo levels, but their transport into the western areas of Yemen will remain difficult due to civil insecurity and difficult market access.
      • Government salaries and the Social Welfare Fund: Many government employees will continue not to receive regular salaries or pensions due to the Central Banks’ lack of adequate financial resources. UNICEF/World Bank are planning to conduct in March 2018 a second round of transfers to 1.5 million households (approximately 8 million people) who were former beneficiaries of the Social Welfare Fund.
      • Internal trade flows: Active fighting, damaged transportation infrastructure, high fuel prices, and additional security and transaction costs (e.g. commissions at checkpoints) will continue to complicate trade flows within the country. In the absence of additional information about the evolution of conflict, FEWS NET assumes that areas where trade flows will be particularly constrained will be the same areas where roads are currently closed, as shown by the Logistics Cluster’s most recent access constraints map.
      • Market demand: Demand from consumers will remain atypically low during the scenario period due to weak household purchasing power caused by below-average incomes and high levels of debt. However, purchasing power may improve temporarily at times during the scenario period as households receive erratic salary payments and/or cash transfers. 
      • Wheat flour prices: Given the recent improved import levels, wheat flour prices are largely expected to follow recent trends except in markets where they have been high and volatile since the start of the conflict, such as in Ta’izz and Shabwah. In these markets, prices will likely continue to be volatile moving forward. In general, prices are expected remain above average and above pre-conflict levels due to increased transaction costs and the continued depreciation of the Yemeni Riyal.
      • Fuel prices: Given a tightening of supply and increased transaction costs for fuel imports, FEWS NET anticipates that fuel prices will remain high and volatile. Fuel prices and availability on the market will mostly be affected by conflict and import levels as domestic fuel production is likely to be able to meet only a third of domestic needs.
      • Agricultural production: The seasonality of agricultural production varies depending on the zone in Yemen. However, in general, land preparations and planting activities of cereal crops will occur between February and June. Key harvest periods will then take place between July and the end of the outlook period in Central Highlands and the Eastern Plateau zones. Meanwhile, in southern upland and coastal areas, harvests will occur after the end of the outlook period in October/November. The first rainy season (March to May) is expected to be below average in terms of total cumulative rainfall for western coastal areas and average for the rest of the country. There is also increased likelihood for hotter-than-normal land surface temperatures across the country, during this period. Production will likely be below average due to a lack of availability and/or access to inputs and limited access to fields in conflict zones. Related agricultural labor opportunities will also be atypically low. Qat production, however, will continue to be generally average. Locusts may be present in coastal Red Sea areas and in the interior of Yemen (FAO) but will cause minimal damage.
      • Remittances: Although remittance service offices will remain open in most urban areas, significant difficulties (ex. delays, closed offices, lack of liquidity) will limit the ability of households to receive remittances from abroad. This will result in below-average incomes from this source.
      • Fishing: Based on seasonality information provided by the World Bank/FAO, fishing activities along Red Sea coastal areas will increase seasonally starting in March/April and continue through September but will remain well below average due to high fuel prices and civil insecurity. On the Gulf of Aden coast, peak fishing periods will include March/April and June to September.
      • Livestock sales: Income from livestock sales will likely be below average from February to May as purchasing power will remain low and there are more livestock parasites and diseases. From June to August, income from livestock sales may increase compared to the current situation as two major Muslim holidays occur during this time. However, despite these relatively higher prices, reduced livestock assets caused by several years of food insecurity will limit household income from this source.
      • Incomes from other sources: The deteriorating macroeconomic situation and conflict will disrupt household livelihoods across much of the country, resulting in below-average household incomes. The largest declines in incomes will be among IDP populations and households residing in intense conflict zones.
      • Nutrition: Given expected difficulty in accessing food during the scenario period, acute malnutrition is expected to rise and remain above seasonally normal levels across much of the country. Based on historical data, SAM admissions to treatment programs are usually at their highest levels between November and January.
      • Cholera and diphtheria: Ongoing fuel shortages will continue to limit the availability of clean water, as well as the functioning and delivery of vaccines and medical supplies to health centers and hospitals around the country. As a result, the spread of cholera and diphtheria is expected to continue through the scenario period.
      • Humanitarian assistance: FEWS NET assumes that humanitarian partners will continue providing in-kind and commodity voucher assistance into May 2018. However, given an absence of information on the planned, funded, and likely status of humanitarian assistance from June to September 2018, no humanitarian assistance is assumed during the second half of the scenario period.
    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    The ongoing food security emergency in western Yemen is likely to continue to drive very high assistance needs through at least September 2018. The deteriorating macroeconomic situation and the persistence of conflict will continue to disrupt household livelihoods, limiting purchasing power and access to food. While harvests during the scenario period will provide some rural households with small food stocks, these stocks are not expected to have major impacts on food security outcomes given the small-scale nature of agricultural production in Yemen and the fact that these harvests will be below average. Household food access will likely further be constrained by higher than usual food prices. Under the most likely scenario, most areas of western Yemen will be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), or would be at least one IPC Phase worse in the absence of planned, funded, and likely humanitarian assistance, and will therefore be classified in Crisis (IPC Phase 3!). Given that needs are significantly greater than current assistance programming, it is likely populations in some governorates will face Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes, among whom increased levels of acute malnutrition are likely. Even in the absence of additional disruptions, populations may begin to move into Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) as worst-affected households begin to exhaust their coping capacity. Meanwhile, in Al Mahrah governorate where on-the-ground fighting and airstrikes have been less intense than in western areas and household livelihoods and food consumption have been less impacted by fighting, outcomes are likely to remain in line with Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity.

    IDP populations and poor households in conflict zones will likely continue to face the most severe food security outcomes. With the recent escalation of hostilities on Yemen’s Red Sea Coast, displacement is likely to continue despite recent increases in humanitarian access to affected areas. Conditions for the displaced will vary based on location, depending on access to labor markets, support from the host community, access to humanitarian aid, and the functioning of local markets. However, in the areas most isolated and cut-off from trade by the conflict, many of the displaced are likely to enter or to remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or Emergency (IPC Phase 4) through at least September.

    In a worst-case scenario, significant declines in commercial imports far below requirement levels and conflict that cuts populations off from trade would likely drive food security outcomes in line with Famine (IPC Phase 5). The rate with which the size of the population in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse increases in 2018 and 2019 would also intensify. The prospect of increased conflict that could damage port facilities at Al Hudaydah and Salif ports is particularly concerning. Al Hudaydah port is the entry point of about 70 percent of all food imports into Yemen. Given that imports by humanitarian actors currently make up less than one quarter of total formal cereal imports into Yemen, it is very unlikely that the humanitarian community or overland imports from neighboring countries would have the capacity to fill the very large import gaps that would exist in this scenario. This would drive major shortages on local markets and likely result in steep price increases, limiting household food access. Furthermore, increased conflict could drive additional displacement and cut populations off from trade, further limiting income-earning opportunities, driving even more severe price increases in local areas, and resulting in a rapid deterioration of food security outcomes.


    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.

    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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