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Press Release

Yemen currency devalues to historic lows, exacerbating hunger needs, warns IRC

The International Rescue Committee is concerned about the rapidly growing level of humanitarian needs in Yemen, as the exchange rate falls to 1,000 YER per 1 USD in the south of the country for the first time. The devaluation is rendering it impossible for ordinary citizens to afford basic necessities, including food.

Foreign currency shortages are driving rapid food price increases in a country that imports 90% of its food supply.  A May 2021 analysis (1) shows “the cost of the minimum food basket was 20% higher than the already significantly above-average levels recorded at the beginning of January 2021”. The purchasing power of ordinary households continues to decline month by month as wages remain stagnant.  

Stephanie Puccetti, IRC Yemen Deputy Director of Programs, said:

“The Yemeni economy is not just a victim of this brutal conflict but increasingly a driver of it, as parties compete for control of key resources and institutions at the expense of ordinary citizens. The causes of Yemen’s economic crisis are complex and interconnected, but the effect on communities already suffering after years of war is clear.

The impact of currency devaluation on Yemeni households is extremely worrying. The YER has lost nearly a third of its value against the USD in the past one year. Even people with stable jobs are struggling to afford food as their income can purchase only a fraction of what it could in previous months.  Throughout the south of the country, it is not that food is unavailable but that it is completely unaffordable. After six years of conflict and economic crisis, many Yemenis have exhausted their savings and sold off all valuable assets like property or livestock. Families are making decisions no family should have to, such as skipping meals or subsisting on cheap foods like bread. Women and girls have reported being forced to ask to borrow food on credit from shop merchants which exposes them to exploitation and harassment. The rate of forced and early marriage of girls has more than doubled since the war started with as many as two-thirds of Yemeni girls married while they are still children.

With over half the people in Yemen already hungry, and the highest levels of malnutrition ever recorded for children under five years old, we are deeply concerned about the growing levels of humanitarian need in the country where two thirds of the population already depend on humanitarian aid. 
 

The recent increase in food prices has coincided with the start of the windy season on the southern coast, when sea conditions make fishing impossible. Households that depend on fishing are unable to earn income during this period, or even fish to feed their families.  Families have reported being forced to beg in the public market or ask for leftover food from military camps.

Now more than ever, the international community must commit to supporting the humanitarian response plan, which is only 44% funded. Recent history has proved that the right investments, delivered to agencies on the front line, can make a difference in Yemen. Warding off the risk of  famine in 2021 demands funding at least equal to that delivered in 2018 and 2019 when donors funded the response plans at over 90%.  Donors should further engage in robust humanitarian diplomacy with all authorities in Yemen to ensure aid can reach those who need it. 

Even with more humanitarian funding and access, the scale of the needs will overwhelm the humanitarian response until food, fuel and other staples are accessible and affordable. Humanitarian agencies  cannot replace a functioning economy.  The international community should push for the easing of restrictions on reopening of Hodeidah port, especially for the regular and predictable flow of fuel, and the reopening of Sana’a Airport for commercial flights to serve Yemeni civilians. Revenues from ports should be used to pay the salaries of teachers, health workers and other public workers. These steps are not political bargaining chips; they are urgent humanitarian matters. Every day that they are delayed costs Yemeni lives. Sequencing or conditioning these steps shows callous disregard for Yemeni lives and wellbeing.

Parties must work to secure a  nationwide ceasefire  and halt the fighting to protect civilians, facilitate the delivery of essential aid, and help build the confidence needed for a meaningful and desperately-needed political process.

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.

Sources:

(1) FEWS NET Yemen Food Security Outlook June 2021- January 2022

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.