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Market shelves are stocked, but Yemenis still starve

More than 10 million Yemenis lack adequate food and more than a quarter million children face malnutrition, but economic disruption, not food shortages, are to blame.


A man carries aid provided by the Red Crescent Society in Sanaa, on July 2. One million Yemeni children face severe malnutrition within months as families struggle to pay for food in one of the Arab world's poorest countries, the UN World Food Programme has warned.

Mohamed al-Sayaghi/Reuters

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After a year and a half of anti-government demonstrations, factional clashes, and political uncertainty, the economy of consistently impoverished Yemen has been pushed to the brink of collapse, and all but the wealthiest Yemenis are under enormous economic strain.

Coupled with rising global food prices and persistent drought in many parts of the country, Yemen is facing a hunger crisis of devastating proportion. According to United Nations estimates, more than 10 million Yemenis don’t have enough to eat, and more than 267,000 children face life threatening levels of malnutrition. But, according to humanitarian workers, there is plenty of food – there's just no money to buy it.

The crisis is, at its essence, a financial one, brought on by the near-breakdown of family support networks that many impoverished Yemenis relied on to eke out a living. And as work opportunities have dried up, Yemenis who once stretched wages to provide for vast extended families have been left struggling just to feed themselves, exhausting their savings, selling land and livestock and, increasingly, wracking up large debts just to stave off starvation. 

Despite its severity, the crisis often seems nearly invisible. In the province of Hudayda, where the UN estimates 60 percent of children are severely malnourished, merchants’ shelves are stocked. But while on the surface business seems to continue as usual, both buyers and sellers say they’ve been pushed to the brink of financial ruin.

A growing sense of desperation echoes within the busy stalls of Bab Mushraf Souq, one of the largest markets in the province’s capital. Farmers bringing their crops to market say that increases in the prices of fuel have tripled the cost of irrigating their drought-stricken fields, leaving many smaller farmers with no choice but to sell their land. Fuel prices have risen as much as 500 percent, while sugar and flour price increases top 50 percent. 


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