"The most food-insecure country in the Middle East"

High prices last year aggravated food insecurity among poor households, which were already suffering moderate to severe food insecurity, according to a report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.



The report, Crop Prospects and Food Situation, stated that a joint FAO and World Food Programme (WFP) Emergency Operation was approved in January 2009 to assist more than 500,000 Yemenis.



Giancarlo Cirri, WFP representative in Yemen, told IRIN the country was one of the most food-insecure countries globally and the most food-insecure in the Middle East, with food price hikes the principal reason.



"This has negatively impacted [on] the poor households, especially in rural areas. Therefore, we will implement a new emergency operation to mitigate the impact of high food prices on the poor families," he said.



The 12-month operation will target more than half-a-million poor Yemenis in eight governorates. It targets pregnant and lactating mothers as well as children under five.



Yemen imports more than 80 percent of food supplies, producing between 15 and 20 percent only.



“High food prices have [affected] the entire country. But certain areas which are poorer than others were most affected. These include the governorates of Saada, Amran, Hajjah, Hudeidah, Lahj, al-Jawf, al-Baidha, and Hadramaut,” said Cirri.



Calorie-deficient diets



Ismael Muharram, head of the Agriculture Research Authority at the Ministry of Agriculture, said the diets of most people were calorie-deficient.



"Eighty-four percent of the population depend on cereals for their calories, while 9 percent get calories from meat," he told IRIN, adding that cereals were not rich in calories.



He said Yemen had the lowest per capita daily calorie consumption in the region. "In Yemen, the per capita daily calorie intake is 2,100, while in some Arab countries it is 3,200, as in Egypt, and 2,800, as in Sudan," he said.



Muharram said 45 percent of Yemen's population lived on less than US$2 a day, and 15 percent on less than $1 a day.



"The money they get every day is enough to provide for only one meal. How can they get enough food every day?” he asked.



Muharram pointed out there were certain factors threatening food security in the country, including constant population growth against modest agriculture growth and limited resources of water and agricultural land.



According to a document prepared by the FAO, more than 820 million people in developing countries were undernourished as a result of their calorie-deficient diets. It said insufficient calorie consumption often went hand-in-hand with micronutrient malnutrition.



The report said Yemen was among 20 countries with 80 percent of the world's stunted pre-schoolers.



According to WFP, 40 percent of Yemen's population is malnourished.



maj/ar/mw