Yemen is bleeding’: Minister’s plea to UN food forum

May 12, 2018
Minister says the three-and-a-half-year conflict between Iran-backed Houthi militias and Yemen government forces had cost the country’s agriculture industry more than $10 million. More than 70 percent of Yemenis depend on farming for their livelihood and the overall jobless rate is now about 40 percent.

The war in Yemen has made “the whole country bleed,” a Yemeni minister told a conference on eliminating hunger in conflict zones.

Othman Hussein Faid Mujali, Yemen’s minister of agriculture and irrigation, said the September day in 2014 when the Houthis mounted their coup was “the worst moment in our history.”

Addressing the Near East Regional Conference at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome, Mujali said: “The Houthis have destroyed all that Yemen has achieved. They made the whole country bleed. Transport, services, health, education, water, electricity — all added to our indignity.”

The three-and-a-half-year conflict between Iran-backed Houthi militias and Yemen government forces had cost the country’s agriculture industry more than $10 million, the minister said.

“Crops have been deleted. There are almost no irrigation channels.”

More than 70 percent of Yemenis work in farming and the overall jobless rate is now about 40 percent. He appealed for veterinary assistance to save livestock and “pave the way for reconstruction.”

Amir Abdullah, deputy executive director of the World Food Program (WFP), said 18 million out of 29 million Yemenis lacked regular access to food and 2 million of those were badly malnourished.

“It seems impossible to lay the foundations for the future in such conditions, but that’s what we must do,” he said. “The WFP aims to bring lifesaving assistance, but it’s just a sticking plaster. It will not solve the problems of the future.”

Lebanon is not at war, but is suffering as a “spillover country,” the Lebanese minister for agriculture, Ghazi Zeaiter, told a sideline event at the conference, which he also chaired.

“Lebanon is directly affected by the war in Syria. Seven years after it started, we are hosting 1.5 million displaced Syrians, half of them children. This is on top of 34,000 Palestinians displaced from Syria and 277,000 Palestinians who were already in Lebanon,” Zeaiter said.

Housing such a large number of refugees — more than any other country — has cost Lebanon $18 billion and led to a 31 percent fall in exports. About 85 percent of the country’s agricultural exports used to go through Syria to the Gulf, but that route was now closed. The country is also spending 18 percent more of its budget on imports.

“Thirty-two percent of Lebanese now live below the poverty line and 10 percent of households are food-insecure,” said Zeaiter.

The presence of Syrian refugees has meant greater competition for jobs, and weak border controls have led to more pest infestation with open-grazing and pollution of the soil and underground water sources.

Pasquale Steduto, FAO regional program leader for the Near East and North Africa, told Arab News that countries could go to war over water unless they learn to control supplies.

“The gap between water supply and demand is widening. It is accelerating and accelerating rapidly,” he said. “Water sources in the Middle East are finite. There is cooperation over trans-boundary issues, but that can be pushed. If it’s pushed too hard, then there could be war over water.”

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