Published on Arab Voices

The critical role of escalating food prices in Yemen’s food security crisis

Devastating shocks in 2020 and the beginning of 2021 have worsened food security from an already low base. Devastating shocks in 2020 and the beginning of 2021 have worsened food security from an already low base.

A number of devastating shocks in 2020 and the beginning of 2021 have stressed the vulnerable Yemeni population and pushed the country towards a potential famine. These shocks include a currency crisis, a decline in humanitarian assistance, the COVID-19 pandemic, and a series of natural disasters. Each event has worsened food security from an already low base. However, given the large number of shocks, it is difficult to prioritize the response to improve the situation on the ground.

Based on when and where food access declined, rapidly rising food prices are a particularly important driver of the food security crisis. Figure 1 demonstrates that poor food access accelerated in mid-2020 and also was worse in the south, which were times and locations when and where food prices escalated most rapidly. Further suggesting that rapidly rising food prices are a particularly important determinant of food access in Yemen, Figure 2 demonstrates that the share with poor access to food increased similarly during the 2018 currency crisis, a time during which both food and fuel prices rapidly increased; and Figure 2 also demonstrates that the share with poor food access hardly changed during the complete air and sea blockade in 2017, a time during which only fuel price rapidly increased.


Figure 1
Figure 2


Every poor and vulnerable household is affected by rising food prices. Alternatively, income shocks from COVID-19 and rising fuel prices tend to have stronger food security impacts on slightly better-off households. Analysis of the timing and location of price increases during the past year and a half suggests three factors driving food price increases:

  1. Increases in global food prices during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  2. Rapid increase in inflation and substantial currency depreciation in the south regions.
  3. Intermittent difficulties in importing fuel in north region has contributed to rises in food prices through transport costs.

Importantly, similar to a number of other food security crises that have occurred across the world, there is little evidence that the cause of rising food prices is due to insufficient agricultural production. Yemen imported over 90% of its food prior to the conflict, and over the past year there has been little change in agricultural production.

However, even though the crisis is in large part due to rapidly rising food prices, the crisis extends beyond the ability to afford food. Rapidly rising food prices lead to a significant decline in resources available to purchase key non-food goods and services once a household has purchased a minimally sufficient amount of food, and households are being forced to choose between which urgent needs to satisfy more than at any other time during the conflict. Figure 3 demonstrates that access to health care significantly worsened during the current food security crisis and is near its peaks since monitoring began. Importantly, nearly all households that skipped needed medical care by early 2021- between 86 and 88% - did so because of the inability to afford medical care.


Figure 3


These findings have implications for both short- and long-run responses to the crisis. In the short run, there is a substantial need to increase and better coordinate the humanitarian and development response to ensure that all struggling households are adequately supported. In the medium- and long-run, food prices need to be reduced to a level that households can better afford. Although many of the drivers of food price rises in the past year are difficult to directly address due to the conflict, there are potentially a number of steps that can be taken to better bring price rises under control. And lastly, these findings further highlight the need for additional analytical work- particularly in identifying additional feasible steps to better address rising food prices and the tradeoffs that households are making- to best respond to the current crisis.



The World Bank in MENA


Eliana Favari

Regional Research, Analysis and Monitoring Officer for WFP’s Middle East and Northern Africa region (RBC)

Sharad Tandon

Senior Economist, Poverty Global Practice

Siddharth Krishnaswamy

Head of Research, Analysis and Monitoring for WFP’s East Africa Region

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