Hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition are among the most pressing challenges in Yemen, exacerbated by protracted conflict in the country. A series of civil wars – the latest of which is now in its eight year – distorting and misaligned national and local agricultural policies, major pest outbreaks such as desert locusts, and more frequent droughts and floods have steadily eroded the country’s agricultural assets.
An estimated 17 million people or around 60% of the population are facing crisis level or acute food insecurity conditions as of March 2023. Currently, Yemen’s agriculture sector supplies only 15-20% of its staple food needs despite the sector being the backbone of Yemeni livelihoods. Agriculture still has much more to offer to help escape the vicious cycle of repeated crises and chronic poverty that can help move the country toward a path of long-term resilience.
Investment in agriculture is one key area of the World Bank's support to the Yemeni people. The Bank has recently provided financing to address food insecurity by supporting the country’s agriculture and domestic food production. In particular, the Bank supports food and nutrition security in Yemen by focusing on agricultural production and climate-resilient restoration of productive assets to protect livelihoods; scaling-up household-level food production as well as domestic food distribution using a combination of short- and medium-term interventions, and prioritizing areas where food insecurity and malnutrition are chronic.
Climate change poses additional risks in Yemen, particularly for the most vulnerable. Over recent years, heavy rains led to flash floods, causing deaths and large-scale damage to homes, infrastructure, and crops. Water shortages, combined with unpredictable heavy rainfall have damaged an already deficient critical infrastructure contributing to increased vulnerabilities for rural populations. Outdated farming techniques and agricultural practices are no longer sufficient to ensure crop resilience, hence affecting food and income security for rural populations. Most vulnerable populations, namely internally displaced people, have been disproportionately affected.
Preparing to mitigate the impacts of future food crises
To better prepare countries to tackle future food and nutrition security crises, the World Bank as part of the Global Alliance for Food Security is working with countries to develop and operationalize Food Security Crisis Preparedness Plans. These plans are developed in close collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN), the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the World Food Program (WFP), the Global Network Against Food Crises (GNAFC), and the UN Famine Prevention and Response Coordinator.
The Yemen context requires close coordination with donors and development partners, who are providing food and nutrition security assistance and humanitarian relief. Among its other efforts, the Yemen food security crisis preparedness plan supports the development of a joint monitoring report –pooling information from various sources to track and recognize early slow onset food security crises.
This monitoring effort is considered a breakthrough, as it is not often to have humanitarian and development organizations being involved in a joint and live analysis. These efforts will collect existing data such as hunger levels, climate related indicators, and changes in food prices which are usually obtained from various organizations. The new Joint Monitoring Report (JMR) will help ensure that organizations working on food security in Yemen can act based on the same data. Moving to more collective approaches is particularly important in a country like Yemen where data will be used across various initiatives including by the United Nations agencies, humanitarian organizations and donors.
Food security data will be updated quarterly instead of just once a year, ensuring that stakeholders have access to the latest information. To make the data more accessible, it will be integrated into the online Food and Nutrition Security Dashboard managed by the Global Alliance for Food Security. Having better data, which is agreed upon by various organizations, will promote trust in the preparedness plan.
In addition to risk monitoring efforts, the preparedness plan also establishes a dedicated decision-making mechanism comprising of officials from various organizations to promote collective recognition and scaled up responses across humanitarian and development partners when a crisis emerges. The structure that is put in place under the preparedness plan will act as foundation for building government ownership over time and when the conflict situation permits. It will also complement longer-term investments to strengthen the resilience of the country’s food systems.
With these systems put in place, the people in Yemen will benefit from the country having a more holistic response across the humanitarian and development communities, also be less exposed to the impacts of future food crises.