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Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Yemen: In the Eye of the Storm

Yemen crisis
Yemenis displaced by the conflict, receive food aid and supplies to meet their basic needs, at a camp in Hays district in the war-ravaged western province of Hodeidah on March 29, 2022, as food prices have doubled since last year and the fact that Ukraine supplies nearly a third of Yemen’s wheat imports has heightened fears of a deepening famine. The disruption in export flows resulting from Russia’s invasion and international sanctions has spurred fears of a global hunger crisis, especially across the Middle East and Africa, where the knock-on effects are already playing out. The toll is most evident in conflict zones such as Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest, where a devastating war since 2014 has sparked one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. Khaled Ziad / AFP

Fares Al Hemyari

The Russian-Ukrainian war cast its shadow over developing countries experiencing armed conflicts, such as Yemen, a country that has found itself in the eye of the storm, as its food security is at stake.

Given its humanitarian crisis escalation, multiple complex scenarios may divert its case into oblivion.

For Yemen, Ukraine and Russia are significant sources of wheat imports and other essential materials, putting this poor and troubled country into harm’s way.

UN Warnings

According to the United Nations, Yemen imports nearly 90 per cent of its food supplies, medicines and fuel. Since the country is almost entirely dependent on its imports of oil and essential commodities, the current conflict in Ukraine may spontaneously restrict these supplies with the hike in food prices.

According to the UN, Yemen’s import-dependent economy is even more fragile now than just a few weeks ago, and the funding crisis threatens to usher in a catastrophe.

The UN states that the war in Ukraine will only exacerbate all of the above resources with the massive price hike on food, fuel and other necessities in Yemen.

Food Stocks Under Threat

The Russian-Ukrainian war has posed severe challenges in Yemen, as the Yemeni government affirmed its efforts to mitigate the repercussions of the conflict on the endangered food security in the country.

The Yemeni government assessed wheat and basic materials’ current stock and reserves. It confirmed that the available stock is only sufficient to cover the local market’s needs for the next four months.

According to the Yemeni government, food security is a top priority as one of the main challenges facing Yemen and ensuring it is the main factor in relieving the humanitarian catastrophe in the country.

As part of the government’s efforts to find alternatives, it has been working closely with the private sector to diversify import alternatives to achieve supply stability for essential commodities.

The Yemeni Ministry of Agriculture, through its offices in several governorates, has also started working on developing projects to grow wheat locally, especially in the fertile areas in Abyan, Al-Mahrah and Hadramout.

Multiple Economic Repercussions

Yemeni economist, Abdul Hamid al-Masajedi, believes that the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian conflict will harm the Yemeni economy.

Masajedi told Fanack: “The Russian-Ukrainian conflict will affect the global economy in general, which we have already noticed in the fluctuating financial markets and the rise in crude oil to more than $100 per barrel. It is expected that this price will exceed this figure if the war continues.

The crisis will also affect shipping and commercial traffic, suspend supply chains and restrict exports and imports to and from the conflicting countries.”

“This crisis will be reflected in more than one aspect. Since Yemen imports most of its fuel needs from abroad, the prices of oil derivatives inside Yemen will double, either through the rise in crude oil prices in global markets or with higher freight rates”, he added.

According to Masajedi, the high fuel bill and the increasing demand for foreign currency to pay for imports will further depreciate the Yemeni riyal.

Furthermore, Yemen imports more than 3 million tons of wheat annually, noting that Russia and Ukraine account for more than 50 per cent of Yemen’s wheat imports.

He also pointed out that the flow of wheat imports into Yemen will face some challenges and the rise in grain prices will be faced with an expected decrease in supply, along with the continued internal demand for wheat at the same level.

Humanitarian Crisis Escalated

Yemen is suffering from the worst humanitarian crisis worldwide, and the outcome of the Ukrainian-Russian conflict will escalate it, according to all indications.

The UN estimates that 23 million out of 30 million Yemenis would need some form of aid. More than 7.1 million of which are one step away from starvation.

It is also estimated that 2.3 million Yemeni children and about 1.3 million pregnant or lactating women already suffer from severe malnutrition.

In mid-March 2022, the UN requested $4.27 billion to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Yemen for the current year, but donors only pledged $1.3 billion, which means there is a considerable gap.

Given the funding shortage, international relief organisations in Yemen closed many of their significant projects that were working directly with people in need.

The World Food Programme stated that it was forced to reduce the food rations provided to 8 million people at the beginning of the year due to the lack of funding.

Currently, 5 million people at risk of falling into famine continue to receive full food rations. But without additional funding, more cuts will be inevitable.

The programme has received only 11 per cent of the funding it needs to provide food aid to about 13 million people over the next six months, and it needs more than $887.9 million.

Furthermore, the World Food Programme has warned that hunger levels could become catastrophic in Yemen as the Ukraine crisis pushed up food prices.

At the same time, the $900 million funding gap makes it in a way that further cuts in food aid are more necessary than ever.

Political Repercussions on Yemen

After all political solutions failed to end the past seven years of war, Yemen fears that the Russian-Ukrainian conflict will have repercussions that may, in a weird twist of fate, further complicate all international and regional efforts to end the Yemeni conflict peacefully.

Political analyst Abdul Salam Mohamed believes that the Russian-Ukrainian war will negatively affect the Yemeni situation, as Moscow’s allies will seek to further consolidate their position in this country.

In an interview with Fanack, Mohamed, head of Abaad Studies & Research Centre, explained that Russia’s allies, Iran in particular, will seek to establish a presence in Yemen through the Houthis, taking advantage of the existing conflict and the world’s preoccupation with it.

According to Mohamed, Russia will influence international security by changing the international balance to weaken American dominance and attempt to end the unipolar policy, which means increased power and control for Russia and its allies.

The Yemeni War Outcome Scenarios

Mokha Centre for Strategic Studies, an independent Yemeni research institution, confirms that the Russian-Ukrainian conflict puts the outcome of the Yemeni war in front of two scenarios;

Either pushing for peace to stop the war or the escalation of the war in the country.

According to them, a peaceful scenario is not likely, as there is no indication that peace might replace the ongoing war.

Taking into consideration the probable repercussions of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis.

The centre sees the possibility of a slight shift That being said in this path through the role that Russia may impose in this aspect to further strengthen its international presence against the Western mobilisation in Ukraine.

However, the Russian role is limited because Russia does not have a military presence in Yemen as it does in Syria.

The centre considered that the war escalation in Yemen is most likely to happen, especially since the repercussions of the Ukrainian crisis may push the regional parties involved in the Yemeni conflict to consolidate their presence in this country.

As Iran may seek to push the Houthis to escalate the conflict if the new Houthi initiative to stop the fighting with Saudi Arabia is rejected, the latter and the United Arab Emirates will continue to reject the two dangers on their borders: the threat of the Iranian nuclear programme, and the Houthis with a robust military presence.

Saudi Arabia has been leading an Arab coalition that has been carrying out a military operation against the Houthis in Yemen since March 2015, supporting the Yemeni president and his internationally recognised government.

The Shiite Houthis control the capital, Sanaa, and most of the densely populated northern Yemeni governorates. According to repeated accusations from the Yemeni government and the Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia, the Houthis have recently developed their military capabilities with Tehran’s support.

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