World's largest food security emergency continues as conflict enters its fifth year
• FEWS NET estimates that approximately 17 million people in Yemen would be in need of urgent action (IPC Phase 3 or higher) in the absence of ongoing humanitarian food assistance. Sa’ada and Hajjah governorates are in Emergency (IPC Phase 4), which is associated with large food consumption gaps and/or extreme depletion of livelihood assets. Of the remaining governorates in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), six would be in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) in the absence of ongoing assistance.
• Between December 2018 and January 2019, large areas will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), as large-scale assistance prevents a deterioration to Emergency (IPC Phase 4) in many areas. In the most likely scenario, humanitarian food assistance will continue through early 2019 and large areas will remain in Crisis through May 2019.
• While ceasefires have recently been announced in Al Hudaydah, FEWS NET’s most likely scenario is based on the assumption that conflict will continue. As such, the potential for continued conflict near Al Hudaydah City remains concerning. Damage, closure, or disruption of land routes to the Red Sea ports could significantly restrict staple food availability and lead to sharp increases in staple food prices across the country. In a worst-case scenario, significant declines in commercial imports and conflict that cuts populations off from trade and humanitarian food assistance for an extended period could lead to Famine (IPC Phase 5). In addition, should humanitarian food assistance fail to materialize in 2019, the risk of Famine (IPC Phase 5) would increase, and the number of people in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) or worse would likely exceed 5 million.
In recent weeks, parties to conflict in Yemen have reached agreements to cease fighting in Al Hudaydah City and Al Hudaydah governorate more broadly. On December 13, the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi militia agreed to a ceasefire in Al Hudaydah City, while mutually committing to the redeployment of their forces from Al Hudaydah governorate more broadly. In addition, further peace talks are currently scheduled to take place in January 2019. The scaledown of military conflict is a positive development for food security in Yemen, particularly regarding keeping essential infrastructure – such as the ports of Al Hudaydah and Salif – in operation.
Nevertheless, the persistence of conflict over the past three years, coupled with the uncertain security situation following the recent ceasefire agreement, remain sources of concern for the resolution of conflict in Yemen. Following international calls for a resolution of conflict and for peace talks beginning in November, conflict further increased in and around Al Hudaydah City. According to Save The Children, almost 100 airstrikes during November 2-3 were reported in and around Al Hudaydah City, which is five times more than during the whole first week of October. The Civilian Impact Monitoring Project (CIMP), also reported heavy clashes on the outskirts of Al Hudaydah City, with heavy airstrikes and shelling impacting civilians in districts around the city. Moreover, following the implementation of the ceasefire in mid-December, some clashes have occurred in Al Hudaydah, highlighting that the security situation remains uncertain.
The potential for conflict to disrupt maritime imports through nearby Al Hudaydah and Salif ports remains a significant concern. Approximately 70 percent of monthly food imports and 40–50 percent of monthly fuel imports into Yemen typically enter through Al Hudaydah and Salif. Should conflict either result in significant damage or disruption to port facilities and operations or cut off trade access from the port to markets, Yemen would likely face significant difficulty meeting its basic staple food import needs.
As of mid-December, the Red Sea ports remain open as commercial and humanitarian imports continue, according to UNVIM reports. However, the main route connecting Al Hudaydah with Sana’a City and Taiz remains closed. The only road access to Al Hudaydah City to Sana’a City is from the north on the Al Hudaydah-Hajjah road. Humanitarian warehouses at the eastern entrance to Al Hudaydah City were also affected by the intensified conflict and were inaccessible. Although decreases in conflict would be expected to improve road and trade access, additional time is needed to verify whether sustained improvements in trade are being observed.
Based on June 2018 data from the Task Force on Population Movement, approximately 2.3 million people were displaced across Yemen, and an additional 424,000 were displaced by late August 2018, largely due to conflict in Al Hudaydah, Sana’a City, and Hajjah governorates. According to UNHCR, nearly 90 percent of IDPs have been displaced for more than one year. Ta’izz, Hajjah, Sana’a City, Ibb, and Amran are estimated to have the highest populations of displaced people.