Following two straight years of bombings by Saudi Arabia and its American allies, Yemen is on the verge of fighting a new aggressor: famine. Although famine has not been officially declared, more than half of the country’s population of 28 million, is “food insecure,” while 7 million are without food at all; UNICEF, the United Nations’ children’s agency, declared that 2.2 million children are in need of urgent care due to malnutrition, which is at an all-time high. New estimates claim that one child dies every 10 minutes — and it’s about to get worse.
Yemen relies primarily on the production of wheat for its food, as bread is one of the most common foods eaten in the country. With the nation at war, Yemeni traders have been importing wheat to try and meet demand. These imports, however, have suddenly stopped, due to a financial crisis involving the country’s central bank — with the country divided into northern and southern factions, the status of the bank is unclear and in jeopardy, with Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, the president in exile, having moved the bank from the Houthi rebel-controlled northern capital, Sanaa, to Aden in the south.
Because of the move, many local banks have been unable to transfer money to wheat traders, due to lack of available foreign currency. The Yemeni people themselves have also felt the squeeze meant for the Houthi rebels, and have little to no cash of their own to purchase what food is available, as public employees have not been paid following the move. As a result, trading agencies like the Fahem Group, which accounts for between 30 and 40% of Yemen’s wheat imports — but was unable to open letters of credit, either — have ceased imports. Other groups have followed suit until these financial problems are resolved.
Both sides are busy pointing fingers at each other — while the Saudi coalition in the South has been blaming the Houthis, saying that they “play the card of the starvation of people to gain more international media attention,” according to Brigadier General Ahmed al-Asseri, the Houthis blame the Saudi coalition for starving people through setting up blockades of its own.
Meanwhile, aid agencies, despite their efforts, have been unable to make up more than a tiny sliver of the difference. Said Oxfam GB Chief Executive Mark Goldring, “Yemen is being slowly starved to death.”