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Three pillars to boost Yemeni families' resilience to compact hunger

A woman in a black dress standing next to a refrigerator inside a grocery shop

Wazira in her small grocery shop. Photo: Ebrahim Mohammed

Wazira in her small grocery shop. Photo: Ebrahim Mohammed

According to the 2022 Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO) analysis, 23.4 million people in Yemen require humanitarian assistance to maintain their lives and well-being, of whom 12.9 million people are assessed to be in acute need. The main instigating factors behind the number of people in need in Yemen are mainly food insecurity and malnutrition, insufficient access to health, water and sanitation, and protection.

A record 19 million Yemeni people need food assistance, with women and children bearing the significant burden of malnutrition. According to the analysis of the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), 2.2 children under five and 1.3 million pregnant and nursing mothers were expected to be in need of treatment for acute malnutrition by the end of 2022. The absence of macro-economic stability, combined with accelerating inflation, depreciation of the local currency, and a rise in global food prices, have compounded food insecurity. The situation has been further exacerbated by persistent fuel shortages, disruption of public services, and high levels of unemployment.

As more people in Yemen slip into acute food insecurity, their livelihoods are eroded, and reliance on food assistance increases. As a result, their resilience to even minor shocks such as decreased food assistance, import challenges, or sharp increases in food prices, can directly impact their food consumption and become detrimental to their well-being.

To address these challenges, CARE and Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) work to strengthen the resilience and self-reliance of vulnerable families in Yemen through an integrated, multi-sectoral approach that combines improving access to essential services, supporting sustainable livelihoods, and promoting their access to finance.

The intervention aims at supporting vulnerable households in Aden, Lahj, and Taiz Governorates of Yemen to access adequate resources to acquire appropriate food items for a nutritious diet for families. It also focuses on ensuring better inclusion of women, youth, persons with disabilities, and other marginalized groups so no one is left behind. To achieve its goal, the intervention adopts three approaches that enable targeted families to enhance their economic situation to meet their short-term and long-term needs, building back their resilience and self-reliance.

Pillar 1: Provision of unconditional cash transfers – responding to the most pressing needs and restoring choice and dignity

The project provides unconditional cash assistance to households that have been assessed to be most vulnerable. This includes families with persons with disabilities, women and children-headed homes, chronically ill, and marginalized groups and aims to immediately improve their food security and living conditions. “With the cash assistance, I bought food for my family,” says Fatima*, a widowed mother from Lahj who benefits from the unconditional cash transfers. “My children are no longer hungry, and I returned them to school. I hope to see my children grow up in a safe and peaceful environment,” she adds.

Unconditional cash transfers are a powerful approach to restoring choice and dignity by allowing families to identify and meet their unique needs.

A woman in a black abaya holding a mobile phone and a money
A female beneficiary receiving cash assistance. Photo: CARE Yemen archive

Pillar 2: Supporting Cash-for-Work activities – rebuilding community infrastructure and improving access to income

Improving cash flow is the primary aim of the Cash-for-Work activities, enabling families to gain income to fulfill their food and nutrition needs. Regular income, even temporarily, encourages savings that recipients can benefit from beyond the intervention period. Cash-for-Work activities also aim to improve how conflict-affected communities can access basic infrastructure. For instance, rehabilitation of water systems through Cash-for-Work activities simultaneously improves access to safe water and reduces the incidence of water-borne diseases.As a result, expenses incurred by families to pay for health and medical services are reduced,  health is improved.

Fahmy Ahmed, a 45-year-old father of one daughter from Al-Khadad Village of Tuban District in Lahj Governorate, says: “Job opportunities for unskilled laborers like me are few and almost don’t exist. I have a retirement salary of 35,000 Yemeni Riyal (nearly 30 US dollars), which can barely feed a family of three for one week. With prices skyrocketing, we eventually couldn’t afford to buy flour, oil, sugar, or even rice. Moreover, my 17-year-old daughter is a cancer patient.”

A man in a turban standing in front of a building, looking towards the camera with a confident expression.
Fahmy Ahmed, 45, father of one daughter from Al-Khadad Village of Tuban District. Photo: Bassam Saleh

Fahmy tearfully continues: “I used to work all day with a small daily wage just to cover the expenses of my daughter’s treatment. It broke my heart to see my family starving and my daughter bearing cancer pain while I couldn’t do anything for them. I used to pray for help, hoping to find a better job.”

With funding from BMZ, CARE intervened in Fahmy’s villageto introduce cash-for-work activities- such as rehabilitating the village school by villagers themselves, who also benefitted from the temporary employment the project created. “CARE supported us in building new classrooms,” says Fahmy. “I’ve been working in classroom construction and receiving a monthly wage of 93,000 Yemeni Riyal (nearly 83 US dollars) for four months now. Finally, I returned home with a package full of high-quality foodstuffs. I use 60% of the income I earn from my work to buy food and 40% for my daughter’s treatment.”

A man standing outside a building
Fahmy proudly shows his work in rehabilitating the school in his village. Photo: Bassam Saleh.

During the rehabilitation period, Fahmy worked under the supervision of a skilled laborer and learned from him until he became qualified and found a job in a brick factory. “Thanks to my work in the factory,” he says, “I’m thinking of starting a small business by saving a portion of my daily wage. This way, I will be able to have a stable income to provide for my family after the project ends.”

Karem Fouad, thirty-five years old, another participant in the Cash-for-Work activities from Al-Massad Village, says: “I used to cultivate fruits and sell them to provide for my family, but I left farming due to the increased costs of irrigation water. Then I worked as a garment maker with a small daily wage that couldn’t cover the basics for seven family members.”

Karem worked in rehabilitating Al-Massad school, building a new fence, leveling the schoolyard, and installing a gate for the school. “I used my income to buy food for my family and save to start a small business,” he says. “After four months of saving, I bought four beehives to start my beekeeping business, hoping to be a big honey trader soon. I trust honey production will bring good money to help me provide food and other supplies for my family,” he concludes with a smile.

A man in a yellow vest and scarf standing next to a wooden box.
Karem stands next to his new beehives in Lahj Governorate. Photo: Ebrahim Mohammed

Pillar 3: Improving access to finance and microbusiness – saving and investing for resilience

CARE’s Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA) is one of the most dignified means of assistance, particularly for women. Integrating the provision of cash assistance earned from the last two pillars with the saving model and microbusiness promotes women’s access to resources and ability to respond to crises.

Savings groups are self-managed groups of 15-25 members from within a community who meet regularly to save their money in a safe space, access small loans to cover expenses such as school fees or invest in small income-generating activities and obtain emergency funds to face shocks and crises.

Wazira, a 43-year-old mother of three, is a housewife and lives in Al-Massad Village of Lahj Governorate. Wazira’s husband is the sole breadwinner for his parents, wife, and children. He works as a teacher with an irregular salary. When his salary is delayed, Wazira’s husband often sells house possessions to buy food and the necessities for the family.

Wazira was keen on earning an income to help her family but didn’t know where to start until she was introduced to the VSLA approach. As part of its intervention in Lahj Governorate, CARE established ten saving groups with 236 members – 120 women and 116 men – to encourage them to save a portion of the money they earned during the provision of unconditional cash transfers and cash-for-work activities. This ensures the economic resilience of project participants beyond the intervention period.

Wazira was then trained to be a VSLA agent and earned 100 US dollars to supervise one of the VSLA groups in the Maqatera District in Lahj for six months. “As a VSLA agent, I was fully aware of the importance of saving and investing. And always encouraged other women in my village to do so,” says Wazira. “I turned one of the rooms in my house into a small grocery shop selling sweets, chocolates, and biscuits for children. Then I saved the money I earned as a VSLA agent and bought a freezer and a small solar system to increase the goods in my grocery shop.”

“I hope to continue building my small shop until it becomes a big supermarket. I also hope to see VSLA members starting their business so soon,” concludes Wazira.

Despite massive challenges, Yemenis continue to show incredible resilience. CARE and BMZ are committed to building that resilience even further through approaches that allow families to make their own choices and buy their own food. Integrating the three pillars will help turn the immediate emergency situation in Yemen into a medium-term improvement through reconstruction and rehabilitation activities (e.g., functioning schools). The microbusiness created with the help of cash assistance will employ more people. The village saving groups will continue to be a robust saving and credit tool to increase the impact of this intervention on livelihoods, social cohesion, and peace.

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