Wednesday, July 6, 2011

YEMEN: Soaring food, fuel prices hit poor hardest

SANA'A, 6 July 2011 (IRIN) - Motorbike taxi driver Abdulkarim Mohammed has been finding it increasingly difficult over the past few months to buy sufficient food for his eight-member family in Yemen.

"Before the revolution, I needed only YR500 (US$2.2) to buy bread for the whole family… but now YR1,000 ($4.4) is not enough," he told IRIN in the capital, Sana’a. "Also, I rarely find fuel for my motorbike.”

By “revolution” he means the series of countrywide protests

which started nearly five months ago against the 33-year rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh and which have left hundreds of protesters dead or injured, and displaced tens of thousands of civilians.

The unrest has pushed up prices. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the cost of bread has risen by 50 percent in the past few months. There is also concern that the currency could collapse, pushing another 15 percent of Yemenis below the poverty line.

Statistics indicate that one in three people are food insecure and under-nourished, and more than 50 percent of children are stunted, OCHA said in a 1 July report.

Economists predict the situation could get worse if Yemen's food reserves run out in the coming two months and the government fails to pay staff salaries.

The current youth revolt may lead to another revolt by the hungry,” Mohammed al-Fandi, head of the non-profit Yemen Centre for Strategic Studies warned.

Increased malnutrition?

In the last few months, many poor families have faced increasing malnutrition because they are unable to buy staple food, according to local think-tank the Studies and Economic Media Center.

Nine million Yemenis, it said in a 4 July report, were having difficulty meeting minimum food needs. “The prices of food staples such as flour, sugar and milk have increased 40-60 percent while ongoing unrest has caused unprecedented shortages in fuel supplies, the price of which increased by 900 percent in the past five months,” it said.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP), in a recent assessment, found that four of the country’s 21 governorates - Rayma, Amran, Hajja, Ibb - were the most food insecure.

Through focus group discussions, it was found out that food prices are higher in rural areas… most likely because of the transportation cost which has risen due to the fuel scarcity,” a WFP briefing note said in Mid-June.

In Yemen, 96 percent of households are net buyers. Thus the poorest households are hit hardest by the recent price increases... The poorest have now opted for negative coping mechanisms, such as reducing the number of meals, no consumption of meat or fish, and even fasting," it added. "In light of how many Yemenis already spend 30-35 percent of their daily income on bread, the inflation of bread prices could prove daunting for the food security of the poorest families."

More people displaced

In the south, more people have recently been displaced, and currently more than 15,610 internally displaced persons are in Aden, about 11,890 in Lahj and an unconfirmed 15,000 in Abyan. Some 90 percent of those in Aden, according to OCHA, depend on donations by host communities to meet their daily food needs.

Media reports suggest the Yemeni economy lost around US$5 billion during the first three months of the political crisis and is now teetering on the brink of collapse. The situation has been compounded by a crippling fuel shortage.

Ahmad Abdulwahabi, a nutritionist in Sana’a, said increased food shortages would mean lower calorie intake for many people. “Low calorie intake causes anaemia and damages vital organs such as the kidneys, liver and heart, as the body normally burns through muscle tissue if there are not enough calories,” Abdulwahabi told IRIN.

Mohammed al-Baadani, a wheat dealer in Sana’a, called for a compromise between the ruling party and opposition to stabilize the economy and bring food prices down.

Parties to the conflict should consider the suffering of the poor," he said. "It is the poor who are bearing the brunt of political turmoil in the country.”

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