Spike in hunger in Yemen likely as humanitarian funding lags | Environment | All topics from climate change to conservation | DW | 28.05.2010

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Spike in hunger in Yemen likely as humanitarian funding lags

International aid donors have been turning away from Yemen, and the World Food Programme there will be out of food soon. The financial crisis, the earthquake in Haiti or fear of an al Qaeda faction could all be to blame.

Somali refugees in Yemen

Somali refugees who fled to Yemen face a food shortage there

A border separates two worlds. While Saudi Arabia is practically rolling in petro dollars, one in three persons in neighboring Yemen lives in chronic hunger, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) estimates.

But the situation is about to get worse, as a lack of international funding has forced the WFP to cut some rations in half, and the agency expects to run out of food in Yemen by August.

The WFP is currently only able to help 476,000 of Yemen's 3.4 million hungry, and it has received only a quarter of the $103 million (78.4 million euros) it needs to continue food aid this year.

Speaking at a press conference, WFP country director for Yemen Gian Carlo Cirri said the halved rations will apply to internally displaced people in the country's north. Their rations are being cut to 1,050 calories per person per day.

"It's not a solution, but a necessity," he said. "In the short term there is a risk that the mortality rate will go up."

History of dependence

Sanaa, Yemen

Yemen is very poor compared to neighboring Saudi Arabia

Yemen has long been dependent on external help to feed segments of its population. Although the country's Western-backed government marked 20 years in power this week, nearly 270,000 people are still displaced from a civil war which lasted from 2004 until this February. More than half of Yemini 15- to 24-year-olds are unemployed, and refugees from war-torn Somalia add additional strain to relief efforts.

Yemen's leaders have a history of suppressing dissidents and say they need aid to maintain stability. They are faced with a heavily armed and discontent population, violent conflicts with separatists in the southern part of the country and a resurgent al Qaeda faction.

Stefan Dercon, Professor of Development Economics at the Oxford University Department of International Development, suggested the WFP has chronic funding shortages.

"The international donor community is still more responsive to crisis than it is to systematically thinking through how to reorganize budgets to actually serve people more," Dercon said.

According to Dercon, the WFP has a "very narrow mandate" in that it simply supplies food. It may be naive to think "supplying humanitarian aid independent of the entire political context" will be effective, he said.

"I'm very critical of the view that you can just do humanitarian things without thinking about the underlying structures. Once you start getting some form of structure in a country like Yemen, that actually can be the basis of some development efforts," he said.

Tangled situation

A Yemini soldier in action

Years of civil war in Yemen ended officially this February

The global financial crisis has hit the finances of many donor countries, and the earthquake in Haiti drained some $15 billion from aid coffers. However, some say unwillingness apparently exists amongst traditional donors to support Yemen with blank checks without seeing political and security reforms.

Eliane Duthoit of the UN Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said donors increasingly want to see better governance in Yemen.

But "humanitarian assistance is based on the needs of people, and this has nothing to do with governance,” she said.

Comments by Cirri echo her sentiment. ”People who need humanitarian assistance are victims – they need support without any regard to political negotiations," he said.

Most funding for Yemen so far has come from Britain, Cyprus, Germany, Italy, Norway, Saudi Arabia and the United States.

Author: Annasofie Flamand/gps/rtrs

Editor: Anke Rasper

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