Yemen: Hunger crisis accelerating under Covid-19

One in every four vulnerable families have lost all income and half have seen their incomes drop by over 50 per cent -- new NRC survey reveals.

Millions of Yemenis already facing dangerous levels of hunger are being pushed into deeper poverty since Covid-19 hit the conflict-devastated country.

A survey by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has found one in four vulnerable families have lost all their income since the pandemic hit the country in April. A staggering 94 per cent of families reported food as a top concern and almost half of respondents said they lost at least half of their income, just as prices for food and water also went up.

Even before Covid-19, Yemen was the site of the largest food crisis in the world. A concerted aid effort pulled the country back from the brink of famine last year, but it now risks sliding back.

“The coronavirus pandemic, coming on top of a lethal confluence of other challenges, has accelerated the misery of the poorest nation in the region, with more families already in poverty earning even less and facing more hunger,” says NRC’s Country Director for Yemen, Mohamed Abdi. “The families we spoke to were already on the edge of survival and now almost all of them tell us their situation is worse.”

Most families NRC interviewed have fled their homes due to the violent conflict, and are now living in inadequate, overcrowded conditions. Despite this, parents had been making every effort to support their families, often by doing the lowest-paid jobs available that are now becoming even more precarious.

“Our main meal is bread and tea,” says Abdulrahman, a former fisherman from Hodeidah who was surviving on aid and from labouring work that has now dried up. “Even potatoes are out of reach.”

“We are more scared of food prices than of Covid-19,” said Ali, father of eight who was forced to flee their home in Taiz.

On top of all the humanitarian needs, food and fuel imports dropping, prices rising, and an economy on the verge of collapse, fighting is escalating once again while aid funding is running out. As global leaders discuss Covid-19 recovery packages for wealthy economies, NRC is calling for even a fraction of these same efforts to be directed towards Yemen, in the form of a cash injection to stabilise the economy, a restoration of aid funding, and an end to the restrictions on imports.

“Never before have Yemenis faced so many threats at once, and all this at the height of a devastating pandemic,” NRC’s Abdi said. “Yemen needs a rescue package. And there must be a ceasefire. The fact that airstrikes and bullets are still continuing even now is outrageous. Countries complicit in funding and supporting this war must stop fanning the flames, and help silence the weapons once and for all.”

Key survey findings & statistics

  • 450 households were surveyed in nine districts where NRC works across Yemen between 29 June and 5 July – that is: Az Zuhrah, Bani Al-Harith, Ma’ain, Amran, Abs, Hajjah City, Tuban, Tur Al-Bahah, Ash-Shamayatayn. All families surveyed were vulnerable enough to have previously received assistance from NRC.

  • 94% of the families surveyed by NRC reported food as a priority for their household. 96% felt food would be a pressing need over the next three months.

  • Families reported to NRC that since the first case in Yemen was reported in April:

  • 79 per cent have seen their income drop by at least a fifth, and 47% by at least half.

  • 94% reported that prices for basic items have gone up.

  • 36% said key items are no longer available in markets.

  • 46% reported the cost of water has gone up.

  • 95% reported to NRC they have no space for family members to isolate if they get sick.

  • Even before Covid-19, 17 million people in Yemen were in need of urgent food assistance, according to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network.

  • 80%-90% of Yemen’s food needs to be imported, but following restrictions related to Covid-19 food imports have decreased by 43% in March and 39% in April according to WFP, compared to the same months in 2019.

  • Funding for humanitarian aid in Yemen is at a historical low according to UNOCHA, with only $0.6 billion received so far, compared to $2.6 billion this time last year.

  • WFP’s July Food Security and Price Monitoring Report showed food prices have been increasing in Yemen since the beginning of 2020, and are close to hitting 2018 crisis levels. They report the number of households with inadequate food consumption has increased from 29 percent in May to 36 percent in June. Food consumption is deteriorating for all groups but is worst in areas with a high intensity of conflict (42 percent of households).

  • The UN reports that the cost of the minimum food basket has risen by as much as 35 per cent in some areas since the outbreak of COVID-19.

  • The latest REACH Joint Market Monitoring Initiative Report showed nearly 25% of vendors report additional difficulties acquiring goods due to COVID-19, and that the price of water trucking has gone up by 150%.