Intensive care wards in Yemen’s hospitals are filled with emaciated children hooked up to monitors and drips – victims of food shortages that could get even worse due to a reorganization of the central bank that is worrying importers.
With food ships finding it hard to get into Yemen’s ports due to a virtual blockade by the Saudi-led coalition that has backed the government during an 18-month civil war, over half the country’s 28 million people already do not have enough to eat, according to the United Nations , reports Reuters.
Yemen’s exiled president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, last month ordered the central bank’s headquarters to be moved from the capital Sanaa, controlled by Houthi rebels in the north, to the southern port of Aden, which is held by the government. He also appointed a new governor, a member of his government who has said the bank has no money.
Trade sources involved in importing food to the Arab peninsula’s poorest country say this decision will leave them financially exposed and make it harder to bring in supplies.
Diplomats and aid officials believe the crisis surrounding the central bank could adversely affect ordinary Yemenis.
“The politicisation of the central bank and attempts by the parties in the conflict to use it as a tool to hurt one another … threaten to push the poorest over the edge,” said Richard Stanforth, humanitarian policy adviser with Oxfam.
“Everything is stacked against the people on the brink of starvation in Yemen.”
The effects of food shortages can already be seen. At the children’s emergency unit at the Thawra hospital in the port of Hodaida, tiny patients with skin sagging over their bones writhe in beds. Hallways and waiting rooms are crowded with parents seeking help for their hungry and dying children.
Salem Issa, 6, rests his stick-thin limbs on a hospital bed as his mother watches over him. “I have a sick child, I used to feed him biscuits, but he’s sick, he won’t eat,” she said.
A nurse said the ward began taking in around 10 to 20 cases in April, but now struggles with 120 patients per month.
The World Food Programme says half Yemen’s children under five are stunted, meaning they are too short for their age because of chronic malnutrition.
In July, Reuters reported that importers were already struggling to buy food from abroad because $260 million worth of their funds were frozen in Yemeni banks, while Western banks had cut credit lines.
Since then, importers have guaranteed much of the risk of financing shipments themselves.
The decision to move the central bank, seen as the last impartial bastion of the country’s financial system which has helped keep the economy afloat in wartime, is viewed as a major blow for suppliers who are mistrustful of the decision and expect even more chaos ahead. Foreign exchange is already scarce and the sources do not have confidence in the new governor.
All of this will lead to further food disruptions and more hardship for Yemenis already facing impending famine, according to the trade sources.
“We have begun to cancel our forward contracts – it’s just impossible to trade when there is no financial system in place. There is no coverage from the central bank where we can trust them or know them,” said one source.
“This leaves anyone bringing in cargoes completely exposed,” added the source, who declined to be identified due to the worsening security situation and fear of reprisals.
Shipping data showed at least nine vessels carrying supplies such as wheat and sugar were on the way to the Yemeni ports of Hodaida and Salif, but the source said there were worries for forward shipments for late October and November.