UN World Food Programme

Hungry Families In Yemen Land In Food-Assistance Safety Net

A mother of five, Fatima is among nearly 5 million people in Yemen struggling to keep her family fed amid conflict and grinding poverty in Yemen. Copyright: WFP/Barry Came

As Yemen slides into a humanitarian crisis, mothers like Fatima face a daily struggle to keep their families fed. WFP is helping through an emergency “safety net” programme that will provide 5 million people like her with food assistance over the coming months.

Al Mahweet, YEMEN -- Fatima Mohamed Al Jammadi sits patiently in the storeroom at the back of the school, waiting for the WFP ration she has come to depend upon to feed six-year-old Mazen, perched at her side, and his four brothers and sisters.

Wrapped from head to foot in traditional black abaya and niqab, she peers at a visitor from behind her veil to explain that her husband, a farm worker, has been without a job for months, with few prospects of finding another.

“There is no work,” she says, “so there is no money. Life is not easy now. We never know where the next meal will come from. We live day by day.”

Severely food insecure

On this day at least, the 30-year-old woman and her five children, ranging in age from one to eight years old, can be confident of finding food. She and young Mazen are part of a crowd of several dozen who gathered recently at a WFP emergency food distribution, held at the primary school in the village of Al Namr, high in the hills of Mahweet governate in western Yemen.

They were all severely food insecure people, a small slice of the 5 million Yemenis who have neither the ability to produce enough of their own food nor the means to buy what they need at the marketplace.

To address the problem, WFP devised an “emergency safety net” for Yemen’s severely food insecure, delivering a monthly ration of wheat and vegetable oil designed to help those in need keep hunger at bay.

“This food is a big help for us,” says Fatima as she is finger-printed in preparation for receiving her WFP ration, part of the identification process designed to ensure that WFP’s assistance goes to those who need it.

“It will feed me and my husband and my children for the next three, maybe four weeks,” she adds. And after that? “We will find something, God willing,” she replies with a shrug.

A complex crisis

WFP’s emergency safety net programme has been expanding dramatically, fuelled by the deepening humanitarian crisis in Yemen. At the beginning of 2012, WFP planned to deliver safety net rations to 1.2 million people during the year. In May, the numbers climbed to 1.8 million. In September, they jumped again, rising by another 2 million to reach 3.9 million people.

The underlying causes of the crisis are complex, the result of a combination of factors, including high global food and fuel prices as well as armed conflict and political instability inside Yemen.

Whatever the reasons, there is no early end to Yemen’s difficulties in sight. Next year, WFP plans to further expand the emergency safety net component of its operations with a view to delivering food assistance to all 5 million severely food insecure people in the country.

The aim is to reduce the numbers of Yemenis suffering from chronic hunger. But it is a major challenge. For, in addition to the 5 million severely food insecure in the country, there are another 5 million people who have been especially hard hit by rising food prices and are finding it increasingly difficult to cope. Many are currently balanced on the edge, in danger of falling into the same plight as that now shared by Fatima and her young family.