Bangladesh food

Yemen’s aid shortfall forces the World Food Program to make tough choices

Foreign aid is vital to help those in need in Yemen, but an infusion of cash alone will not solve the social and economic problems plaguing the country, the World Food Program representative said.

In an exclusive interview with The National At the start of a Gulf tour to meet with major donors, Richard Ragan said the lack of funding has left the UN with immense budgetary pressures that are hurting its efforts to help feed the poorest country in the world. Arab World.

The humanitarian deficit, he said, was forcing the WFP to make difficult decisions on how to distribute food aid fairly.

“We take from the poor to feed the hungry. If my budget is limited, I have to focus on the most hungry people. And that often deprives the poor of resources,” Mr. Ragan said.

“Most people in the country are poor. Either they have been displaced by the conflict, or they are affected by the conflict, or they are simply poor.

The UN official, who moved to Sanaa when he took office in February, said one of the toughest decisions he has to make is when to cut food rations for each family in due to the scarcity of resources and a limited budget.

“There are people who are hungry and there are people who are even hungrier, who will die if they don’t have food,” he said.

“I didn’t really understand it until I had kids, that the worst thing you can go through is not being able to feed your family.”

Mr. Ragan, who has also worked in Bangladesh, Libya and North Korea, gave an example: “We can go from 75 kilos of wheat flour, per family, to 50 kilos. And when you talk to people, you feel it, you feel the tension. They’re angry, they’re desperate and it’s not a good situation.

Yemen has been ravaged by war since 2014, when Houthi rebels seized Sanaa and ousted the government. A Saudi-led coalition went to war in March 2015 to restore government.

Around 400,000 Yemenis have died since the conflict began, but around 60% of them have died from indirect causes such as hunger, lack of clean water and disease, according to UN figures.

Hunger and disease, Ragan said, are taking a heavy human toll in Yemen, accounting for most of the deaths recorded in the country last year.

With its economy and local currency shattered by seven years of conflict, Yemen is heavily dependent on foreign aid and imports more than 90% of its food.

The UN says nearly four million Yemenis are already in an “emergency” phase of food shortages.

Funding gap

Despite the urgent need for humanitarian aid, the WFP and other UN agencies are struggling to raise the approximately $200 million a month needed to feed the country’s vulnerable population.

In March, international donors again failed to meet Yemen’s needs at a pledging conference.

The UN has raised $1.3 billion, about 30 percent of the $4.2 billion needed to alleviate the suffering of more than 17 million Yemenis.

This is the sixth year that Yemen’s humanitarian response plan has not been fully funded.

The war in Ukraine has also exacerbated Yemen’s woes, he said, diverting media attention from the worsening humanitarian crisis.

But it is not only Yemen that has been affected by the war in Europe.

The Russian invasion, Mr Ragan said, “is having a huge impact on the region”.

“Obviously not just Yemen, but it impacts other countries like Lebanon and because of the reliance on food supply, sunflower oil, wheat, flour, beans – everything comes of these two countries [Russia and Ukraine]. So that’s a problem.

But Mr Ragan said the biggest threat to food security in Yemen is the ongoing war there.

A two-month truce was agreed by the Saudi-led coalition and the Iran-backed Houthis on April 2 and is the first national truce since 2016. The ceasefire can be extended if both sides agree.

“The war must stop because it is the only way for the country to progress,” he said.

Updated: May 13, 2022, 05:24

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