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Houthi aggression in Red Sea exacerbates Yemen's humanitarian crisis, says UN

Houthi aggression in Red Sea exacerbates Yemen's humanitarian crisis, says UN
8 Apr 2024 23:47


The ongoing crisis in the Red Sea, marked by attacks by the Houthi rebels, is exacerbating an already critical humanitarian and food security situation in Yemen, UN agencies reported. 

The implications of these attacks are far-reaching, affecting not just the immediate region but also the global supply chain, with a particularly devastating impact on Yemen, a country heavily dependent on aid and reliant on imports for its basic food requirements.

More than 50% of surveyed households in Yemen were unable to obtain adequate food, a World Food Programme (WFP) report published on Monday revealed. The food security situation in Houthi-controlled areas reached its worst level in December 2023.

The WFP has paused General Food Assistance (GFA) in Houthi-controlled areas since December 2023 due to a severe funding crisis and issues with and the absence of an agreement on a smaller programme that matches available resources to the neediest families, the organisation said in a statement back in December. 

This pause has led to an increase in the prevalence of severe levels of deprivation among beneficiary households in the north, from 23% to 38% in just a few months, the quarterly report revealed.

Though the humanitarian situation in Yemen has already been deteriorating due to aid shortages, Houthi aggression in the Red Sea is significantly compounding the crisis by disrupting vital supply chains, leading to further reductions in food imports and exacerbating food insecurity among the already vulnerable population. 

A report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), published in late February, explained that the Red Sea crisis is disrupting the movement of goods, leading to food shortages and inflated prices, thereby making essential food items unaffordable for a significant portion of the population. 

"Humanitarian organisations heavily depend on maritime routes to import food, medicine, and other essential supplies to the affected areas. Any disruption or blockage of these routes will hamper the delivery of assistance, exacerbating food insecurity among the already vulnerable population," the report said.

The increase in war risk insurance premiums for vessels transiting the Red Sea by a staggering 3,200% increase following the first Houthi attacks, as well as ships bypassing the Suez Canal, had a knock-on effect on shipping and delivery times, FAO revealed.

Consequentially, the cost of humanitarian imports into Yemen has been inflated, further squeezing the budgets of humanitarian actors and impacting the delivery of vital assistance, with the WFP reporting that "the level of food imports decreased by 17% via Red Sea ports and by 62% via Aden and Mukalla ports between November and December."

This is aggravated by the destruction of critical infrastructure, including ports and storage facilities, and the increased insecurity that forces fishermen to abandon their activities, thus diminishing a vital source of protein for the Yemeni population.

Due to the ongoing turmoil in the Red Sea and the already worrisome humanitarian situation in Yemen prior to the escalation, households from 18 out of 22 governorates reported inadequate food consumption, which exceeded the "very high" threshold of 40% and over. The most impacted governorates were Ma'rib, Al Bayda, Ad Dhali', Lahj, Shabwah, Al Jawaf, and Ibb, the WFP said.

Moreover, the UN food organisation noted a disturbing trend in the adoption of negative consumption-based coping strategies by 58% of surveyed households, a 12% increase over the course of 2023.These strategies include limiting meal portion sizes (77%), consuming lower-quality food (62%), and prioritising food consumption for children over adults (67%). Such measures indicate a severe and deepening food insecurity crisis across Yemen.

The implications of the Red Sea crisis extend beyond immediate food insecurity, as FAO warned of potential for economic instability, including plummeting remittances, rising inflation, and currency depreciation, making food and other essentials even less affordable for the average Yemeni, noting that the situation is expected to deteriorate "over at least the coming three to four months".

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