Yemen, threatened by famine, fears the impact of the war in Ukraine


In northwest Yemen, wheat fields stretch as far as the eye can see but are insufficient to feed a population on the brink of famine. The war-torn country fears a lack of wheat due to another conflict, the one in Ukraine.

In Al Jawf, farmers harvest the precious grain for grinding before shipping it to various locations and to the capital, Sana’a. With a population of 30 million, Yemen, the poorest country on the Arabian Peninsula, is still heavily dependent on wheat imports.

A third of these imports come from Russia and the Ukraine. And the prices of raw materials have been soaring since the start of the conflict between the two countries, at the end of February, which raises fears of a shortage.

With an economy devastated by more than seven years of war, Yemen is particularly exposed to the consequences of the Ukrainian crisis. The Houthi rebels, who control much of the north of the country, particularly Sana’a and Al Jawf, have announced that they want to produce more grain to deal with these consequences.

At a bakery in Sana’a, Mohamed al Jalal and his employees work to provide small loaves of bread to customers, who take them away in small red plastic bags.

“There is flour available on the market but we fear shortages due to the war between Russia and Ukraine,” the baker told AFP.

It would be necessary to import more, but at the same time the Yemeni authorities should work more in favor of the “self-sufficiency” of the country, and “support the farmers so that they grow more wheat”, he assures.

The Iranian-backed Houthis are opposing government forces supported since 2015 by a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia, the powerful neighboring monarchy.

This coalition controls the air and maritime space of Yemen, to prevent, according to her, the smuggling of weapons to the rebels. They denounce a “blockade”, which makes it difficult for humanitarian aid to reach a population that experiences hunger every day

“Due to the enemy’s blockade but also to the war in Ukraine, we must guarantee food security from within the country,” Ali Al Khaled, press officer at the Houthi-controlled body in charge of grain production, told AFP. .

With this structure, the rebels want to “develop grain cultivation in Yemen in general and in the Al Jawf region in particular,” he says.

For a week, Yemen has lived to the rhythm of an unusual and fragile two-month truce obtained by the UN. The weapons have been silent, except for some sporadic violence.

In this month of Ramadan, one of the main concerns of Yemenis is “iftar”, the Muslim fast-breaking meal, traditionally synonymous with large gatherings.

“If the war between Russia and Ukraine continues, the price of wheat will increase here,” fears Ali Al Kabus, a wheat importer and reseller.

With the rise in oil prices, also due to the crisis in Ukraine, transport costs have also increased. “This will be a huge burden for the people,” lamented the merchant, while his employees unload dozens of large white bags full of flour.

Other Middle Eastern countries are also affected, such as Egypt and Lebanon, major importers of Ukrainian and Russian wheat.

In Yemen, a country surrounded by the wealthy Gulf monarchies, the UN estimates that up to 19 million people could require food assistance in the second half of 2022.