The UN's World Food Programme (WFP) and Yemen's government have launched an emergency scheme to distribute 600,000 tonnes of UAE-donated wheat to offset soaring food prices. The US$30 million (Dh110.2m) initiative, set to start in the next few weeks and continue for about a year, will distribute food in eight of Yemen's 21 governorates. About 200,000 people, including pregnant women and children under the age of two, are targeted to benefit.
"Yemen is one of the countries most hard hit by high food prices... In recent months, prices have decreased slightly, though they are still out of reach for many," the UN agency said. The agency said that the wheat was donated by the UAE Government. Yemen ranked 153rd out of 177 on the UN's 2008 Human Development Index. The WFP has listed it among 30 countries most affected by worldwide food-price hikes.
According to the World 2006 Report released by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Yemen had high levels of food insecurity, with more than one third of its population suffering from chronic malnutrition. "This announcement is not a good sign," said Eckart Woertz, the programme manager of economics for the Gulf Research Centre. "There is a lot of bad news coming out of Yemen and this is just more bad news."
Like many countries in the region, Yemen is highly dependent on food imports. According to the WFP, Yemen imports about 75 per cent of its food - the UAE imports about 85 per cent. Under the emergency scheme, the food destined for Yemen will be re-exported from the UAE, which is also grappling with soaring prices and potential shortages. "There is a growing population, declining water and the little water that is there is used for cotton production, which uses a lot of water and is not needed for subsistence," Dr Woertz said.
Earlier this year, soaring food prices sparked protests in countries around the world including Yemen, one of the poorest countries outside Africa. The price of wheat has doubled since February, while rice and vegetable oil jumped 20 per cent in the first four months of this year. According to the FAO, the number of people going hungry in Yemen increased from 4.2 million between 1990 and 1992 to 7.1 million - 37 per cent of the population - between 2001 and 2003.
UAE efforts to help its neighbour come as the Emirates is struggling to contain food price inflation. Earlier this month Emke Group, the parent company of Lulu hypermarkets, said it was in talks with foreign food suppliers in an effort to alleviate inflation-driven price increases in Abu Dhabi. The talks were the latest cost-cutting measure to be taken by the Abu Dhabi-based company as volatile oil prices continue to send the costs of basic commodities higher.
The company is negotiating deals with food suppliers in Thailand, Egypt, Pakistan and India. Commodities pass through an operational food chain from their source - the farms - to traders and eventually to retail shops around the world. Every party in the transaction keeps about five per cent of the margin, and this can prove costly for countries such as those in the GCC, which rely almost entirely on foreign sources for food.