Yemen is searching for new wheat suppliers but will need help to pay for increasingly costly imports, an official and a main importer said, as the World Food Programme warned of cuts to food aid for millions already living on the brink of famine, Reuters reports.
Disruption to global wheat supplies due to the Russian war on Ukraine and a sudden wheat export ban by India risk deepening Yemen’s hunger crisis and pushing up food price inflation that has already doubled in just two years in some parts of the country.
Ukraine and Russia are both major grain exporters and the conflict between them has seen world wheat prices soar. Yemen imports 90 per cent of its food.
The WFP’s country director in Yemen, Richard Ragan, told Reuters the number of people in the Arabian Peninsula country living in near-famine conditions could rise to seven million in the second half of 2022 from around five million now.
The UN body feeds 13 million people a month in Yemen, where the economy has been wrecked by years of war, but has since January reduced rations for eight million of them. It may soon have to make further cuts, after raising only a quarter of the $2 billion it needs for Yemen this year from international donors.
“We’re taking food from the poor and feeding the hungry,” Ragan said. “In June we will have to make some tough decisions about possibly even going down to just feeding five million, those who are really most at risk.”
Yemen’s grain requirement is about four million tonnes a year and “we’re coming in at around 25 percent of that”, he said, adding that the WFP itself had seen food and fuel cost increases of about $25-$30 million per month.
Yemen has enough wheat to last three months, the trade minister in Aden told Reuters last week, adding that the ministry was pressing for a $174 million Saudi aid tranche to be used to finance essential imports including wheat.
Saudi Arabia earlier this month agreed to pay the final installment of a deposit promised in 2018.
“The government and importers are looking for alternate markets to import wheat, like Brazil and others, to make up for the 45% of wheat needs that were coming from Ukraine and Russia,” Trade Minister Mohammed Al-Ashwal said.
The seven-year war between a Saudi-led coalition and Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group, which largely controls North Yemen, has caused a serious devaluation of the currency and a shortage of foreign reserves.