Washington — Along with a troubled security environment in Yemen, highlighted most recently by a May 21 suicide bombing that killed more than 100 people, the country is facing a serious humanitarian situation — “one of the worst in the world,” a senior U.S. official told reporters. The United States is working not only to provide emergency assistance but also to build longer-term resilience and stability to meet Yemen’s needs, the official said.
Speaking in a May 21 teleconference, the U.S. Agency for International Development’s deputy assistant administrator for democracy, conflict and humanitarian assistance, Christa Capozzola, said Yemen’s political conflicts have exacerbated what was already a serious humanitarian and food security situation, and that 10 million Yemenis, or more than 40 percent of the population, do not have reliable access to food. The figure includes 1 million children under age 5 who she said are suffering from acute malnutrition.
“Rising food prices, widespread displacement, and unemployment have contributed to significantly higher malnutrition levels throughout the country over the last couple of years. And, as you know, that increases the risk of disease as well as permanent physical and cognitive impairment,” Capozzola said.
“In the face of this worsening situation, the United States is focused on providing lifesaving humanitarian assistance to those in need in Yemen. More importantly, we are addressing the needs in a way that helps build resilience and stability,” she said.
Since October 2011 the Obama administration has provided more than $73 million in humanitarian assistance, including more than $47 million in emergency food assistance, she said.
The assistance includes 37,000 metric tons of wheat and other food items; more than $11 million for food vouchers that can be used in local markets; supplementary nutrition programs; mobile medical clinics and emergency supplies; clean water, sanitation and hygiene programs; and livelihoods programs to help people earn money.
“Something as simple as providing a temporary job to help rebuild community water systems or helping to restore assets like livestock can put enough money in a family’s pocket to get them through a tough time. These livelihoods programs also help build community assets for the longer term and stabilize the economy. So we’re working to help families get through the crisis, but also to build long-term resilience,” Capozzola said.
The State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for population, refugees and migration, Kelly T. Clements, said there are 780,000 refugees, conflict victims and internally displaced people in Yemen who are vulnerable to food insecurity. The figure includes more than 550,000 displaced Yemenis and 215,000 refugees from the Horn of Africa, especially Somalia.
Clements noted that there has been a substantial increase in the number of migrants over the past year. In 2011, the country saw an influx of more than 100,000 African migrants. An additional 43,000 have arrived so far in 2012, compared to 30,000 who arrived over the same period in 2011.
“As the fighting continues, humanitarian needs escalate. We anticipate that intensified fighting in Abyan Governorate will lead to civilian casualties and large population movements out of the area. Relief agencies are monitoring the situation, preparing contingency plans to respond to potential humanitarian needs,” Clements said.
The United States has a comprehensive approach to meeting Yemen’s needs, she said, focused on “strengthening both Yemen’s national and local institutions and civil society organizations.”
“As the Yemeni transition progresses, we will continue to address the needs of the Yemeni people by delivering humanitarian and economic aid; supporting human rights, political and governance reform; and providing security assistance to combat the common threat of violent extremism,” she said.
Clements said Yemen’s government will not be able to tackle the humanitarian crisis by itself, especially in the short term, and will need support from the international community in addition to what the United States is providing. She said the international community’s Friends of Yemen group will be meeting in Riyadh May 23 to encourage the government to “engage in serious dialogue with all relevant parties to resolve their outstanding grievances,” and will also try to coordinate international donor assistance in support of the political transition in the country.
According to USAID’s Capozzola, “We expect there will be some discussion of the growing humanitarian needs in the larger context of the political and economic transition and the challenges therein and that we’re going to want to continue to encourage more international support to meet these needs.”