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Over 100% price increase in staple food contributes to dire humanitarian need as Yemen enters 7th year of war, says IRC

As food prices rise in Yemen, recent data from IRC surveys and various analyses show concerning coping strategies adopted by Yemenis:

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  • 66% reported they had to reduce the number of meals eaten
  • 74% rely on less preferred and less expensive foods
  • 71% had to borrow food or request help from friends and relatives
  • 68% had to limit portion their food size at mealtime
  • 57% had to restrict consumption by adult in order for small children to eat
  • Three in five Yemenis surveyed by the IRC could not afford basic items and some are resorting to child labor and child marriage to ease expenses
  • Over half the population in Yemen is going hungry, and acute cases of malnutrition for children under 5 is at the highest ever recorded

Six years from the escalation of the conflict in Yemen, a new analysis by the International Rescue Committee shows how huge increases in food prices over the last four years are driving need in the world’s largest humanitarian crisis and leading to widespread negative coping strategies. The indirect consequences of the conflict are seen in economic hardship, health and malnutrition.  Over half the population in Yemen is going hungry, and acute cases of malnutrition for children under 5 is at the highest ever recorded. Of the over 20.7 million people in need in Yemen, over 3 million people are identified by experts to be in “catastrophic need”; indicating a total collapse of living standards, exhaustion of last resort coping strategies and an alarmingly high number of deaths.

Key Yemeni household staples have seen a more than doubling of prices, including a 133% price rise in wheat flour, 96% price rise in vegetable oil and a 164% price rise in rice from February 2016 to October 2020.  

A number of factors explain these soaring prices: economic warfare by all parties including bureaucratic barriers to the import and movement of food, fuel and medicines; currency manipulation and depreciation that undermine purchasing power; and a history of attacks on the means of food production, storage and distribution. Air and sea port closures are severely constraining imports and contributing to rising prices. 

The impact on Yemenis is catastrophic: three in five Yemenis surveyed by the IRC could not afford basic items and some are resorting to child labor and child marriage to ease expenses. IRC teams are seeing widespread negative coping mechanisms including families having to reduce the number of daily meals, the amount of food consumed, or eating only nutrient-deficient foods such as bread and tea.

Numerous testimonies from IRC clients attest to the way in which rising food prices have contributed to rates of malnutrition in the country.  Taqwa Hasan Ali, a client of the IRC’s EU supported mobile health and nutrition programming in Al-Dhale’e, told IRC that rising prices contributed to his 5-year old daughter experiencing malnutrition. “The rising prices meant our financial situation became very bad,” said Mohammed. “We were not even able to visit the hospital or buy medicine because it is so expensive.”

In a REACH price monitoring report, contributed to by the International Rescue Committee, almost a third of surveyed vendors reported disruptions in supply chains with over 89% and 70% reported damaged roads and electricity as constraining their ability to conduct business

Tamuna Sabadze, IRC Yemen Country Director, said

“The situation for ordinary Yemenis is disastrous.  Food prices are rising and wages are stagnant, while  conflict restricts livelihoods and COVID has reduced remittances from abroad. Over 3 million people are identified to be in catastrophic need in Yemen, many of whom are resorting to negative coping strategies to survive. We cannot wait for wide-spread famine to be declared in the country; by then, it would already be too late.”

David Miliband, CEO and President of IRC, said

“At the six year mark of its civil war, Yemen is the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe.  It is a political emergency as well as a humanitarian emergency.  Now is the time for a dual approach: funding to prevent famine and save lives, and diplomacy to end the war.   

The aid cuts announced by the British government are the opposite of what is needed: the Humanitarian Response Plan needs more funding not less. In addition, Yemenis require the reopening of air and sea ports and other steps to facilitate import flows and stabilize the currency. World leaders need to throw full diplomatic weight behind the UN Special Envoy’s efforts to secure a nationwide ceasefire.  A halt to the fighting will protect civilians, facilitate delivery of aid, and help build the confidence needed for a meaningful and desperately-needed political process.

“The arrival of the Biden administration, and the initial steps it has taken, create the best chance for six years for an end to the war, but real progress depends on shedding past, failed thinking.  Diplomacy needs a new start.  That means a new UN Security Council resolution, a determination that humanitarian needs will not be held hostage to diplomatic game-playing, and a willingness to recognize the realities of Yemen’s fragmented, brutal, and impoverished situation.”   

The IRC has been working in Yemen since 2012 and rapidly scaled our programming in 2015 to address greater humanitarian needs caused by the conflict. While the ongoing conflict creates challenges for our operations, the IRC has maintained access to affected populations and continues to provide life-saving services, including treatment for malnutrition, healthcare, water and sanitation, cash assistance as well as case management services and education programming.

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and over 20 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.