Inside Story
Averting a crisis in Yemen
Is the international community doing enough to help Yemen as it faces a potentially catastrophic food crisis?
Last Modified: 24 May 2012 11:41

Yemen has long suffered from political turmoil, violence and unrest. But now major aid groups are warning that thousands could die in a catastrophic food crisis.

"It's a bit like the Horn of Africa crisis in that we recognise that we were too late in responding to that and what we are trying to do here is make sure that already when you have severe malnutrition rates and you have almost half the population going to bed hungry that we do what we can now to prevent this from becoming a complete catastrophe."

- Penny Lawerence, the international programmes director of Oxfam 

A group of Western and Arab Gulf nations has been meeting in Riyadh to see how it can help Yemen push ahead with reforms and tackle poverty.

During the conference, Abdul Qader Qahtan, Yemen's interior minister, warned that time is running out: "Security and stability will never be achieved in Yemen unless an immediate action is taken. What we can achieve by a million dollars today will not be achievable by a billion dollars tomorrow."

Saudi Arabia has already pledged $3bn in aid, but is the international community acting too slowly?

Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East. More than 42 per cent of its rapidly growing population - of around 22.5 million people - live under the poverty line. It has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, and is desperately short of water.

Recent data from the World Food Programme, the United Nations Children's Fund and Oxfam presents a bleak picture:

  • Nearly 44 per cent of Yemenis, around 10 million people, do not have enough to eat
  • Over five million Yemenis require emergency aid
  • A third of the country's children - about 267,000 - are malnourished
  • The UN says that figure is likely to rise significantly without preventative action
  • Fighting in the north and south of the country has made around half a million people refugees
  • As a result of all this, some 25 per cent of the population - around six million people - has fallen into debt trying to feed their families.

"The GCC, unlike most other donors, continued to provide Yemen with assistance even in the darkest days of the crisis. During the last year, GCC countries dispersed over $1bn worth of emergency assistance as well as long-term development financing .... This crisis is really an international responsibility and is much too great for just a group of countries, no matter how rich they are."

- Abdel Aziz Abu Hamad Aluwaisheg from the Gulf Cooperation Council

A leadership crisis is just one of a host of challenges facing President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi as the country's army continues to battle with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

On Monday, al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in the Yemeni capital. Almost 100 people were killed in what is seen as the deadliest attack since the new president took control of country.

Yemen was once divided into two countries - and some in the south want that to be the case again. Many people in the southern provinces complain that they have been marginalised politically and economically by the government in Sanaa.

Yemen also has troubles in the north where the Houthi fighters have their stronghold in the province of Sa’adah. Rebels took advantage of the political instability in Yemen - the country was rocked by an uprising that forced Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down as president in February - to gain control in the north, close to the border with Saudi Arabia.

So, is the international community doing enough for Yemen?

Inside Story, with presenter James Bays, discusses with guests: Penny Lawerence, the international programmes director of Oxfam; Abdel Aziz Abu Hamad Aluwaisheg, the assistant secretary general for negotiations and strategic dialogue at the Gulf Cooperation Council; and Ameen al-Hemyari, a professor at Qatar University and a Yemeni political analyst.

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