Famine-threatened Yemenis fear impact of war in Ukraine
Published on: Amended:
Sanaa (AFP) – The wheat fields of northern Yemen stretch far and wide, but they are not enough to feed a country where millions of people go hungry.
Already on the brink of famine, war-ravaged Yemen fears a shortage of the staple food ingredient due to a different war – in Ukraine, which is one of the world’s main grain suppliers.
At a busy Sanaa bakery, Mohammed al-Jalal and his staff sell buns to customers who take them away in red plastic bags.
“The flour is available in the market but we are worried about the shortages because of the war between Russia and Ukraine,” Jalal told AFP.
In Al-Jawf province, which borders Saudi Arabia, farmers work hard to harvest their crops before milling the wheat and shipping it mainly to the rebel-held capital, Sanaa.
Most of Yemen’s roughly 30 million people will not taste this local product, as the country depends almost entirely on food imports, with almost a third of wheat supplies coming from Ukraine, according to the United Nations.
In the Middle East and North Africa, people are struggling to get even the most basic necessities given soaring food and fuel prices sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February .
Jalal said Yemeni authorities “should support farmers so that they can grow more wheat in our country.”
After more than seven years of civil war, the Arab world’s poorest country was already suffering from what the United Nations called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
More than 17 million people in Yemen face high levels of food insecurity, according to UN-backed assessments in March, and the total is expected to rise. Famine conditions already afflict more than 30,000 Yemenis, UN agencies said.
Ali al-Kabous, a wheat importer and trader, fears that “if the war between Russia and Ukraine continues, the price of wheat will rise here”.
Battle for survival
Food prices in Yemen have already doubled since last year and the country’s years of fighting have led to economic collapse.
As his staff unload dozens of white sacks full of flour, Kabous points to a related concern. As world oil prices rise, transportation costs will also rise, and “this will be a huge burden on people.”
The Iran-backed Huthis who control much of northern Yemen are fighting the internationally recognized Yemeni government which since 2015 has been aided by a Saudi-led military coalition.
Accusing Iran of smuggling weapons to the Huthis – a charge Tehran denies – the coalition has imposed an air and sea blockade of rebel-held territory since 2016.
According to the Yemen Data Project, an independent tracker, the coalition has also carried out more than 25,000 air raids on Yemen since its intervention.
“Because of the enemy blockade but also the war in Ukraine, we have to ensure food security from inside the country,” said Ali al-Khaled, spokesman for the rebel-controlled agency in charge of security. grain production.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reported last year that total cereal production in 2020 was estimated at 365,000 tonnes (tonnes), a figure that takes into account “conflict-related constraints” and which is nearly 25% below the five-year average.
On April 2, a two-month UN-brokered ceasefire took effect, the first national truce in the war since 2016.
As part of this agreement, the coalition agreed to ease its blockade to allow two weekly commercial flights to Sanaa. Fuel and other food shipments will also be pouring into the vital aid port of Hodeida, which is also in rebel hands.
After more than 150,000 people were reportedly killed in the fighting, violence plummeted following the truce, which began on the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
But the battle to survive continues as Yemenis struggle to feed themselves.
© 2022 AFP