Yemen has been rocked by months of deadly anti-regime protests while food prices have soared
Yemenis hold loaves of bread reading in arabic "leave" during a protest against the regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa on March 6, 2011. Nearly four million people will be affected by Yemen's crisis in 2012, UN agencies have said, warning that the restive Arabian Peninsula country is on its way to becoming another Somalia. © Ahmad Gharabli - AFP/File
Yemen has been rocked by months of deadly anti-regime protests while food prices have soared
Last updated: December 18, 2011

Yemen crisis to hit 4 million people in 2012

UN agencies warned on Sunday that Yemen is on its way to becoming another Somalia, saying nearly four million people will be affected by the impoverished nation's political and economic crisis in 2012.

"About four million people will be affected by the crisis in Yemen in 2012 and will require immediate humanitarian support," said the UN Inter-Agency Standing Committee.

More than half will be "severely food insecure," said the IASC statement.

"While there have been significant political developments in Yemen, humanitarian needs are forecast by all actors to deteriorate still further over the next 12 months," UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Jens Toyberg-Frandzen, told reporters in Dubai.

"In Yemen there's a new Somalia in the making," Naveed Hussain, a representative from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told AFP.

"Somalia became one of the largest refugee-producing countries in the world. We don't want that to happen to Yemen."

Kelly Gilbride, policy adviser of Oxfam, said UNICEF assessments of the cities of Hudaydah in the west and Hajja in the north put malnutrition rates at above 30 percent.

"These (figures) are comparable to Somalia. We are talking about severe malnutrition rates," she said.

Yemeni Health Minister Ahmed Qasem al-Ansi said: "Around 500,000 Yemeni children below five years old suffer from severe malnutrition."

According to Gilbride, "basic food prices have skyrocketed almost 50 percent (while) prices in fuel have peaked at five times the average amount," adding that the crisis affects the whole country.

"This is why it's staggering at this point. We're not just talking about conflict-affected areas any more. Men, women and children across Yemen are not able to find enough food every day."

Yemen has been rocked by months of deadly anti-government protests against the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has agreed to step down in February 2012 after 33 years in power.

A transitional unity government was sworn in on December 10.

Yemenis "have made some progress on the political front, but if humanitarian needs of people are not met, then this can undo the positive steps taken in the political scene," said Hussain.

"We are most concerned about the humanitarian situation which is very close to catastrophic," he said. "There are millions of people who are close to starvation" in Yemen.

Refugees from nearby Somalia and Ethiopia are another burden Yemen has to deal with.

Hussain said that more than 94,000 Africans have crossed the border into Yemen since January.

"This is making the basic services come to a total standstill."

The UNHCR estimates that more than 445,600 people have been internally displaced after years of conflict.

According to UNICEF representative in Yemen Geert Cappelaere, "60 percent of the people displaced are children."

Children under 18 -- around 55 percent of the total population estimated by the World Bank at 23,580,220 -- are the most affected.

"With the declining of basic social services and the declining of health services in Yemen, they are the children again who are suffering most," said Cappelaere.

"We have seen a drop in 2011 between 20 to 40 percent of children who are not any longer getting the necessary vaccines that prevent them from dying of simple illnesses like measles and polio," he said.

Children are also involved in armed conflicts.

"The association of children in the armed forces is a reality in Yemen," Cappelaere told AFP. "We as UNICEf have expressed our deep concern to all military factions... All of them are recruiting children."

But "over the last couple of months, all the factions, from the government to the opposition to tribal militias, have expressed interest and commitment to stop this practice."

He estimated that children of around 12 years of age form up to 15 to 25 percent "of all armed forces."

But obtaining exact numbers is difficult because of the absence of birth certificates.

Humanitarian workers in Yemen meanwhile face difficulties that hamper their work there.

"One of the biggest problems we've been facing is that there is no access to all areas," Toyberg-Frandzen told AFP.

"There's also been security concerns: how do you get out to the people you're supposed to reach when you have internal strife and when you have a country that has been torn from within?"

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