Deep Root, a consulting firm focused on development in Yemen, recently published a report that details how the conflict has impacted the food pipeline. Around 60% of Yemenis are food insecure, and pockets of areas hardest-hit by the food insecurity crisis have reached the point of famine. This humanitarian disaster is caused by a multitude of factors; the livelihoods of civilians have been negatively impacted by the conflict, and many people are unable to pay for the increased prices of food and fuel.
...at each stage in the process, challenges are being encountered that ultimately increase the final cost of staple goods reaching local shelves. There are, for the most part, sufficient food commodities in local markets, but the majority of Yemeni households lack the financial ability to meet their daily requirements. The devaluation of the riyal and the widespread loss of income sources have left Yemenis financially worse off than prior to the war, and although international prices dropped for certain staples coinciding with the onset of the war, the final retail costs of basic foods in Yemeni markets have increased.
Many Yemenis have lost their main source of income; the government often leaves salaries and social welfare benefits unpaid, agricultural areas have had decreased production because of conflict-related challenges, and fishermen in the Red Sea have had their boats and equipment destroyed by fighting. Farmers in Yemen have turned to producing qat rather than food staples, since qat generates more income, and thus the country relies on imports for 90% of its staple foods. In addition, those in rural areas are hurt by increased fuel prices, a consequence of the fuel shortage, since they’re then unable to travel the long distances to the nearest market.
The prices of food have increased as a result of the financial situation, the inhibited shipping process, and damaged infrastructure. Since the onset of the war, Yemen’s currency, the riyal, has been devalued, which hurts importers who purchase US dollars to pay for their goods. Additionally, the Central Bank has increased the exchange rate, and importers often have to deposit the full payment for their shipment rather than only a percentage; consequently, importers place the increased financial burden on customers. Furthermore, the coalition has placed severe burdens on the shipping process. Some ports, particularly al-Hudaydah, have been damaged the conflict and process shipments much more slowly. As al-Hudaydah processes a significant amount of Yemen’s staple food imports (58% of key foods go through al-Hudaydah and Saleef), its damaged capacity inhibits the food pipeliner further. Roads and bridges connecting ports to local markets have been destroyed by fighting and inhibited by security checkpoints, increasing the cost of transport after porting as well.
The enormity of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and the complexity of the actors on the ground make navigating the path forward a daunting task. However...there are many stages along the food pipeline where delays and cost increases are being experienced, and this leaves several areas where the international community and Yemeni authorities can step up.
Deep Root has laid out a set of recommendations to address the food insecurity crisis. First, civilians must be given livelihood opportunities; the government must pay salaries for public sector employees, NGOs should offer cash transfers, livelihood support, and a voucher system for local retailers. Regarding the financial situation, the government and donors should ease access to foreign currency, facilitate transfers from importers to suppliers, and increase access to finance so that importers don’t have to rely on cash. The UN must improve the functioning of UNVIM, and the coalition must stop overriding UNVIM and end its limits on container numbers and transshipping options (since they periodically force transshipments to land in Jeddah at the coalition’s discretion). Ports and infrastructure must be repaired, especially the cranes at al-Hudaydah, and capacity at Aden must be improved, since some capacity in al-Hudaydah can’t be replaced. Finally, Houthi-Saleh forces need to unblock the flow of goods into Ta’iz, and NGOs need to begin mapping out local markets to identify where help is needed most.