FAO, Yemen, food insecurity
A quarter of the country’s population is living under emergency levels.
ROME, ITALY — Vast swathes of Yemen - 19 out of 22 governorates - are facing severe food insecurity according to a new joint  assessment by the United Nations (UN) and partners, which warns that the situation within affected areas is likely to deteriorate if conflict persists.

The latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis confirms that over half the country's population is living in "crisis" or "emergency" levels of food insecurity, with some governorates seeing as much as 70% of their population struggling to feed themselves, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) said.

At least 7 million people - a quarter of the population - are living under emergency levels of food insecurity. This reflects a 15% increase since June 2015. A further 7.1 million people are in a state of crisis.

"The IPC results clearly show the huge magnitude of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen," said Jamie McGoldrick, UN Humanitarian coordinator for Yemen. "This is one of the worst crises in the world and is continuing to get worse. Conflict has taken a very heavy toll on the country and its people, exacerbated widespread vulnerability and virtually destroyed household coping mechanisms. As a result, food insecurity remains unacceptably high."

Major drivers of food insecurity include fuel shortages and import restrictions that have reduced availability of essential food commodities in the country, which imports some 90% of its staple foods. Food and fuel imports in March 2016 were the lowest since October 2015 and satisfied only 12% of the country's fuel needs.

Domestic prices of wheat, meanwhile, were 12%-15% higher in May 2016 compared with pre-crisis levels, even though global wheat prices have decreased in recent months.

Shortages of seeds and fertilizers have crippled crop production across Yemen, where around 50% of the labor force earns their living from the agriculture sector and related activities.

Two cyclones in November 2015, plus flash floods and locust swarms in April 2016 further plagued already struggling communities, limiting their ability to produce and access food.

"We managed to provide support across the most affected governorates under these challenging conditions, but ongoing conflict, displacement and limited access to farmland and fishing sites continue to cause significant losses to agriculture and threaten farmers' livelihoods," said Salah El Hajj Hassan, FAO's Yemen representative. "With access to many staple foods limited through import and transport restrictions, helping communities feed themselves through back-yard farming and small poultry production, among other interventions, is essential now."

Some 3 million children under the age of 5 and pregnant or nursing women require services to treat or prevent acute malnutrition, the report said, citing UNICEF data.

Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) is at an alarming stage in most of the country's governorates, reaching levels of 25.1% in Taiz Lowland and 21.7% in Al Hodeidah.

Under these circumstances, both food and agricultural assistance are critical to saving lives and livelihoods across Yemen.

"From January to April 30, 2016, about 3.6 million people received emergency food assistance, but the overall response is significantly underfunded," said McGoldrick. "I urgently appeal to donors to increase humanitarian funding so that more food assistance can be delivered to millions of other people in urgent need."