Food Crisis in Yemen

The civil war in Yemen has resulted in a catastrophic food crisis that is crippling the Middle Eastern country.  Millions of Yemenis are now facing a humanitarian crisis, with an estimated 6 million considered to be severely food insecure by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Hilal Elver.

The barely reported struggle for power between groups in Yemen country has resulted in the exacerbated risk of famine. Since its outbreak in January 2015, the conflict is comprised of multiple Islamic sectarian groups and foreign powers seeking control. Houthi Shiite rebels from the north, who have remained loyal to the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, successfully destabilized the Yemeni government of Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. The Yemeni government has enjoyed support from the US and Saudi Arabia and many drone strikes by these allies have been completed. Iran, Russia and Hezbollah have supported the rebels. However, ISIS militants have recently entered the arena, waging war against the rebels, as well as the Yemeni government strongholds.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has estimated that 13 million people are food insecure, 6 million of those being severely food secure and in need of external assistance. According to the WFP, 1.2 million children are suffering from acute malnutrition.

Restrictions imposed as a result of the conflict are largely to blame for the shortage of food and other medical supplies. Yemen relies on imports for 80% of its food intake, and the price hikes have made food security very volatile. This is in conjunction with increased price of diesel, which has increased the price of drinking water because of the inability for pumping systems to function. Moreover, fighting near ports and road networks have disrupted the flow of food and aid workers attempting to deliver food to conflict-affected areas.

What is also worrying about the situation in Yemen is the attack on humanitarian groups. In August 2015, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) suffered an attack at its offices in Aden, the stronghold of the Yemeni government in the South. Seven humanitarian workers have been killed since the beginning of the conflict. Human Rights Watch (HRW) have also argued that Saudi-led air strikes have unlawfully used excessive force, potentially being defined as war crimes.

Elver notes that “the deliberate starvation of civilians in both international and internal armed conflict may constitute a war crime, and could also constitute a crime against humanity in the event of deliberate denial of food and also the deprivation of food sources or supplies.” Elver has also advocated for greater funding of humanitarian aid projects directed to Yemen: “I call on the international community to do everything possible to provide on an emergency basis the necessary funding as well as essential aid”.