World Food Program says another six percent of Yemenis are living in extreme povertyPoverty increase fueled by rising food prices.. “the new face of hunger” [Archives:2008/1148/Local News]

April 21 2008

Sarah Wolff
SANA'A, April 20 ) More than six percent of Yemenis have dropped below the poverty line due to rising staple food prices, joining the 40 percent of Yemenis already living on less than $2 per day, Yemen's country director for the World Food Program, or WFP, said at a press conference Saturday.

Additionally, there are few viable methods available to the average Yemeni family to help cope with the recent increased risk of starvation.

“Coping mechanisms are limited to skipping essential needs, so it either affects the food basket or health and education,” said Mohamed El-Kouhene, Yemen's WFP country director, adding, “If we don't do something now, Millennium Development Goals will be set back 70 years.”

In order to feed their families, those Yemenis living below the poverty line will have to either skip meals, decrease their intake of fruits, vegetables and meat, or discontinue medical visits and schooling for their children, he noted.

The state of the nation's food instability, which has increased due to price hikes, has become more precarious as the $28 million gap between the WFP's budget and Yemen's need continues to grow.

Although the Yemeni government has been attempting reforms in water management and increasing agricultural output, these efforts aren't enough to stave off hunger for the majority of the population, as both rural and urban residents are affected.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick urged developed nations to contribute the promised $500 million in emergency donations to the WFP in a press statement made on April 9. “This isn't just a question of short-term needs, as important as they are,” Zoellick stated to the Associated Press. “This is about ensuring that future generations don't pay a price too.”

Between June 2007 and March 2008, the price of basic cereals has increased 55 percent worldwide, according to El-Kouhene.

A major factor contributing to the global rise in grain prices are energy and oil prices, which affect everything from food production to processing to transportation.

With oil prices reaching new heights, El-Kouhene expects food prices to increase as well, climbing for several months before stabilizing.

While there have been reports of field workers bribing beneficiaries or stealing food, El-Kouhene says the WFP has a strong monitoring system, noting that when commodities disappeared from one WFP warehouse last year, they were restituted quickly.

Other problems, such as water shortage and using arable land for qat production, are under government review, but the 46 percent of Yemenis living in dire poverty don't have the luxury of waiting for solutions.