Yemen: Resilience in the face of starvation

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A shocking humanitarian situation in Yemen is unfolding in front of our eyes.

Two years ago, no one predicted that the conflict and war would continue, leaving millions in acute and severe malnutrition, lacking access to safe and clean water and without shelter.

Yet today Yemen is one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises and our own ground experience indicates that slowly but certainly, if the situation continues, extreme starvation will not be a mirage anymore, but a life and death reality.

A possible attack against Al-Hudaydah port, the entry point for an estimated 70 per cent of Yemen's food imports, and in the absence of any clear viable alternative, would also severely impact the humanitarian situation and put millions further at risk.

Millions of people are suffering

The victims of this crisis are the millions of people who were forced to flee their homes and are now displaced in their own country. They are the ones who suffer the most and who will continue to suffer if the war is prolonged. Facing starvation, malnutrition, fear, insecurity, lack of opportunities, income, and disease outbreaks such as cholera, their daily lives have become miserable. Droughts, floods and extreme weather add further misery.

Every time we visited displaced families, we felt completely lost, speechless and blank. How did they and many others managed to come this far with the extraordinary difficulties they have been facing for the last 24 months. How did they move forward while living under gusts of wind that shatter their shelters which are made of plastic bottles, leaves, and bush trees? The heavy rains ultimately swamp everything, forcing them to pick up the pieces and reconstruct new shelters from scratch.

Fateema,* a 12-year-old girl takes care of three siblings younger than her. Their father died during the conflict and their mother no longer lives with them. There are many families like Fateema’s, where children head the household.

Water trucking distribution in Al-Manjorah camp, Hajjah, Yemen. Credit: Moayed Al-Shaibani/Oxfam, February 2017

Rampant hunger

Food insecurity is very high among these people. The challenge to survive and thrive is an enormous burden on these young children. Securing meals everyday is their top priority where there is hardly any unskilled or appropriate job available.

Crisis can make someone very strong but to be resilient in these circumstances reveals some extraordinary courage. Fateema, like many others, has that courage to stay in the open field in a makeshift tent along with her siblings. She also stitches clothes and sells them to nearby families to get money for food.

The recent release of IPC report, though famine was not declared, clearly shows that the situation is worsening by the day. Of all life-threatening issues displaced people are facing, the most alarming one is that people eat less and less food, in many cases only one meal a day.

In Hajjah and Al-Hudaydah, girls and women are in a more precarious situation than other household members. Sometimes, women and girls’ only meal also has to be sacrificed due to a cultural practice where men and boys will eat first, leaving only leftovers for the women and girls. This is an example of how malnutrition is increasing at a household level.

Farah*, 8, collects water from the Oxfam water distribution point at the Al-Manjorah IDPs camp, Bani Hassan District, Hajjah, Yemen. Credit: Moayed Al-Shaybani/Oxfam *Name changed.

Collapsing economy

The situation in the host communities is equally bad where the head of the household earns less because of the crisis, while sometimes around 15 to 20 people have to share the food that is available.

On the ground, local markets still function and basic foods items such as wheat flour, cooking oil, vegetables, and rice are available. However, people’s decreasing daily income limits their affordability. On their other hand, except for bread, the prices of others food items kept increasing for the past two years – they are on average 22 percent higher than before the war.

Humanitarian access

The de-facto blockade and access impediments inside the country have also impacted the imports and deliveries of food but small and local traders in Hajjah and Al-Hudaydah have been able to kept selling staple foods in an unhindered manner. In these circumstances, in order to afford daily meals, displaced families resort to selling their only valuable asset which is livestock.

The wish for peace

The resilience of Yemeni people cannot be expressed in words. The hardship is unbearable for children like Fateema who will become invisible in the days and years to come due to the loss of her childhood.

We wish for peace in Yemen to be restored so that the future generation can grow with the dream to become what they want and not what war and conflict wants them to be.

This entry posted by Arvind Kumar, Oxfam Yemen’s Humanitarian Program Coordinator, on 26 May 2017.

*Name changed.

Photos:

  • Fatima, in Al-Manjorah IDP camp, in Hajjah governorate. Credit: Moayed Al-Shaibani/Oxfam, February 2017
  • Water trucking distribution in Al-Manjorah camp, Hajjah. Credit: Moayed Al-Shaibani/Oxfam, February 2017
  • Farah*, 8, collects water from the Oxfam water distribution point at the Al-Manjorah IDPs camp, Bani Hassan District, Hajjah, Yemen. Credit: Moayed Al-Shaybani/Oxfam *Name changed.

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