November 20, 2014 / 4:52 PM / in 3 years

Half Yemen's children malnourished as hunger worsens strife

LONDON, Nov 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Nearly half the children in Yemen are suffering from malnutrition, the agriculture minister has said, as insurgencies, water scarcity and climate change exacerbate sectarian strife in the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest state.

“More than half the population of Yemen suffers from food insecurity... 48 percent of the children suffer from malnutrition,” Agriculture Minister Farid Mujawar told a U.N. conference in Rome on Wednesday.

“We know this challenge of hunger has a major impact on health and education at every stage... it cannot be deemed acceptable.”

As hunger falls globally, Mujawar used the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s second summit on nutrition to ask the international community for more aid.

Short of food, running out of oil and water, Yemen is facing rising political and religious violence, which analysts believe is linked to environmental degradation and growing groups of hungry, angry people with few prospects.

“Environmental breakdown encourages social breakdown,” Mark Katz, a politics professor at George Mason University, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “It doesn’t seem that Yemen will be able to turn this around.”

Government revenues from crude oil exports, a key source of financing for the state, dropped almost 35 percent in the first nine months of 2014 to $1.34 billion from $2.04 billion in the same period a year earlier, according to figures released on Monday.

The drop follows months of political turmoil. Shia Muslim Houthi fighters have been in control of the capital, Sanaa, since September and continue to battle Al Qaeda affiliated Sunni tribesmen.

Analysts link the current explosion of unrest to a broader power struggle, with sectarian undertones, between regional powers Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Security officials in the Gulf states accuse Iran of supporting the Houthi fighters, while Saudi Arabia’s monarchy backs Sunni tribes.

Some analysts say environmental factors, compounding food insecurity and poverty, may be playing a larger role in stoking tensions than sectarian struggles in the country of 25.5 million.

Sanaa is expected to be the world’s first capital to run out of water, according to calculations by Robert Sharp from the National Defense University in Washington D.C.

Water scarcity around the country is increasing quickly, in tandem with a rapidly rising population, meaning hunger is likely to worsen.

Yemen’s National Food Security Strategy, set up as a response to a spike in global food prices in 2008, aimed to cut food insecurity by a third by 2015 and to make 90 percent of the population food secure by 2020.

Recent political violence, and dwindling government revenue, mean those targets are unlikely to be met.

“With population growth it has only gotten worse,” said Katz, the politics professor. “This (environmental conflict) is an underlying theme in Yemen.” (Reporting By Chris Arsenault; editing by Tim Pearce)

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