Hunger Crisis

Two weeks into the Yemen blockade – Fuel, Food and Medicines Running Out

19 November 2017 

Two weeks since land, air and seaports in Yemen were closed, aid agencies are appalled by the complacency and indifference of the international community regarding the historic humanitarian disaster now unfolding.

Aid agencies are gravely concerned about a new outbreak of cholera and other water borne diseases. UNICEF warns that they only have 15 days’ left of diphtheria vaccines. They are due to receive a new shipment late November but still have not received clearance. If this vaccine is not brought in, one million children will be at risk of preventable diseases.

The fuel shortage in Yemen means clean water in the country is more and more scarce. Water networks are closing by the day as fuel for the pumps runs out and pipes run dry. The lack of water poses grave risks to young children most of all. Schools will become centres of disease rather than centres of knowledge.

With no fuel, hospitals are closing wards and struggling to operate intensive care units and surgical operation theatres. Refrigeration units for essential medicines are being turned off for periods of time to save fuel. Doctors, some of whom have not been paid for ten months, are asking INGOs and UN to share their small supplies of fuel to run their life-saving generators; INGOs are citing one month fuel supply only.

Agencies are starting to double the value of the cash distributions to the most vulnerable people. This will enable people to buy and stock food for the coming cold winter months before prices rise beyond their means. This means agencies will exhaust their funds allocated for next year. Additionally, aid agencies have grave concerns for wellbeing of people that are currently inaccessible.

The country’s stocks of wheat and sugar will not last for longer than three months if cargo vessels are not allowed to discharge in Hodeidah, the country’s only deep water seaport, in the next few days. Even if they are allowed, food distribution systems have been severely disrupted and may collapse within weeks. Moreover, having incurred so many additional costs and in a highly volatile environment, international traders may decide that importing to Yemen is too risky a proposition to continue.

The international community must break its shameful silence and use all possible means to lift the blockade on Yemen immediately. Hodeidah port, that serviced 80% of all imports, and Sana’a airport, needs to be reopened to let in urgently needed shipments of food, fuel, and medicines. Every day the blockade lasts means thousands of Yemenis will suffer from hunger and preventable diseases. Millions could die in a historic famine if the blockade continues indefinitely. This is not the time for carefully balanced statements. The choice is between resolution, or complicity in the suffering; there is no third option.

 

Daniel English

Oxfam Ireland

086 3544954 

Helping a Yemeni village fight hunger

Yemen is on the brink of famine after two years of devastating conflict. So far thousands of people have been killed and over 3 million forced to flee their homes. More than half of the country is without enough to eat. We are delivering emergency aid but we urgently need your help to do more.

We drive west through steep rocky terrain, dotted with ancient mountain-top fortresses studded with tall circular towers of rough-hewn stone. Rural Yemen is serene, isolated and medieval. We are heading from Oxfam’s emergency humanitarian office in Khamer, in the northern tribal heartland of Amran governorate, to Othman village on its western edge. 

Othman’s 200 families are battling hunger, like many others across Yemen.

Othman village, in Yemen’s Amran district, where 200 families are fighting hunger. Credit: Mohammed Farah Adam/Oxfam

A perilous drive

The drive is nerve-wracking. Our driver Abdullah says pointedly he has been driving for 10 years around these hairpin turns and vertical cliff-face drops. I think he’s noticed how scared I am.
We wave to some men and women working the tiny cultivated terraces, and to curious child shepherds moving goats and sheep through the sun-baked mountains. 
 
We lose mobile phone reception and modern-day communication. After one and a half hours of a perilous ride over 27 kilometres, we descend into a valley dotted with fields of sorghum (a type of cereal), and to a hamlet of scattered stone dwellings in the cliffs high above the valley floor. 
 
This is Othman village.

Food is scarce

Othman’s people eke out life in stricken conditions. Food is mostly home-made bread and a boiled wild plant known locally as Cissus or Hallas. We’re here to measure how Oxfam’s cash assistance project of €81/£76 per month for each extremely poor family has helped put food on their tables and avert starvation.
 
Boiled, the wild plant Cissus – or Hallas as it is locally known – is the main food along with home-made bread that people eat in Osman village. Credit: Mohammed Farah Adam/Oxfam
 
There were 80 severely malnourished children in Othman. Oxfam set up cash assistance projects around the Khamer district, with other agencies, to buttress their battle against starvation. The children got health treatment from our partners, while Oxfam gave cash to the most desperate of the families here. We also ran a programme to raise their awareness about malnutrition and good hygiene. 

No teachers for the schools

At Othman school, a frail old man whirls black prayer beads through his fingers, leaning against the wall of a classroom. The school rooms are now only used for community meetings. There are no teachers in Othman. 
 
The village announcer shouts out over the loudspeaker: “Oxfam is here to monitor the conditions of the malnourished children.” Curious folk join us. Parents have dressed their children, who before had been on the brink of death, in their very best clothes. They seem well on the mend. Over the four-month duration of our cash assistance project in Othman we’ve reduced malnutrition by 62%.
 
Though pale, these children are no longer on the verge of starvation.

You’ve saved our lives

Nine-month-old Mohamed Amin, the youngest of five siblings and still tiny, is cradled by his father. He has certainly been saved from an early unnecessary death, by a small assistance.
 
Crammed into a classroom, we ask about Oxfam’s work. How many times do you eat a day? How is the baby’s condition? What do you do for a living? And so on.
 
Rabee Qassem holds his young daughter while worrying for her future. He's one of thousands that used to receive Oxfam's cash assistance in Amran governorate. Credit: Mohammed Farah Adam/Oxfam
 
Children smirk at my Arabic as their parents take turn in answering. Others nod along.
 
“Your assistance saves our lives,” says Rabee Qassem, holding his young daughter.

The effects of war

Many of these villagers used to work on small farm plots along the valley but their incomes were so meagre they could no longer afford their essential needs when the price of basic commodities skyrocketed due to the conflict and the de-facto blockade of Yemen.  
 
Since the war exploded open in March 2015, more than 10,000 Yemenis have been killed and 17 million people – 60 percent of the population – do not now have enough to eat. More than 7 million of them are a step away from famine. 
 
As they were here in Othman. 

Hope for peace

I ask the mother of 10-month-old Marwan about her hopes. She takes a deep breath, a moment of silence as she gathers her thoughts, and tears well up. “Peace! My only hope is peace,” she says. Others nod. 
 
At the end of our meeting, I had to announce the news. “We have run out of money to continue the cash assistance.” 
 
Their banter dies down to silence. “But why? Our situation is still miserable,” Mohamed Amin’s father says. 
 
“The cash assistance project was funded by donors for only a specific period of time, which has come to an end. We are still looking for more donor funds but we haven’t secured any yet,” I explain. “We know your situation and we are doing our best.” 
 
“Thank you. God will help,” says the old man with the beads.
 
An Oxfam water distribution point. Photo: Moayed Al.Shaibani/Oxfam
 
It is a wretched time. Our programme was funded for four-months and – although this was made clear at the start – the people of Othman are dismayed now and afraid. It’s my job to start winding-down this part of our work now that we only have a month left of funding toward it. 
 
We hoped to maintain it. We tried. It saved their lives. But the cruel truth is that earlier this year, the big aid donors made the tough decision to triage their money only to governorates that were at “level 4” emergency status – that is, one level below famine. 
 
Although still itself in an emergency situation as a village, Othman is part of a governorate – Amran – that is classified overall as “level 3”. Therefore, there are other governorates which are, overall, in worse straits. 
 
Othman no longer makes the cut. 
 
This is exactly what we mean when we say Yemen is an “overwhelming” crisis. Our unconditional cash transfer projects are immediate life-savers; last year Oxfam ran cash transfer projects worth nearly €3.3 million/£3 million, to more than 7,100 families in Yemen (the Othman project cost about €27k/£25k, by way of example). 
 
But these are typically short-term and irregular projects, and with the constant funding pressure we’re forced to keep tightening our criteria of people we can help to only the most desperate.

Stand with Yemen

Over the last two years, Oxfam has provided humanitarian assistance to more than 130,000 people in the most dire humanitarian needs in Khamer and in three other neighbouring districts. We enable vulnerable communities to access water through the rehabilitation of rural and urban water networks. 
 
We’ve invested in rain-water harvesting, repaired water networks, and provided fuel, sanitation services, solid waste management and hygiene promotion. We’ve given out winter clothes to families living in open displacement camps, helping their children to survive freezing weather. 
 
With heavy hearts, we leave Othman and its children and their parents.
 
Oxfam is still running a cholera response project there, including distributing hygiene kits, but our cash assistance work in Othman is done – at least for now – decided for us, because there are “worse” priorities elsewhere.
 
I hope Othman’s people survive. I hope they can eventually thrive. I hope that donors can find more funding and expand the humanitarian work to the scale it needs to be, including back into the pockets of desperation like Othman. 
 
I hope Yemen can achieve peace. 

What you can do now

The face of famine and hunger: ‘I give them tea and water to fill their stomachs’

At a site for displaced people in Pulka, northeast Nigeria, families arrive daily seeking safety, shelter, food, and clean water. 

Numbers tell only part of the story. Behind the statistics lies the anguish of parents struggling to keep their families alive.

Across Africa and in parts of the southern Arabian Peninsula a massive hunger crisis is threatening the lives of 30 million people. Some of them in an area of South Sudan are already enduring famine conditions.

Photo: Tom Saater/Oxfam

The scale of this disaster is shocking. But numbers have a way of numbing us. They can be too massive to personalise—until you listen to the stark words of a father unable to earn enough to feed his family or hear the anguish of a mother too hungry herself to produce milk for her newborn. With stories, statistics hit home.

In the photo essay below, you’ll meet some of the people struggling to survive the conflicts, drought, and terrible hunger crisis those events have triggered.

Fekri

Photo: Omar Algunaid/Oxfam

Fekri, 40, pictured here with an Oxfam-supplied hygiene kit, is a father of four living in Al-Jalilah, Yemen. “Life is difficult these days,” he says. “We cannot afford all the essential items. More than half of our money is spent on water.” 

Ahmed and Dolah

Photo: Moayed Al Shaibani/Oxfam

Ahmed, 45, and Dolah, 40, live in Khamer City, Yemen, with their eight children. Their sole source of income is Ahmed’s cobbling, but most days, he returns from the market empty-handed. Dolah goes begging at the market, hoping to collect some money or bread for the children, but she’s usually faced with verbal harassment. They hope that the war will end soon so that their children can sleep safely, free of hunger. 

Majok

Photo: Bruno Bierrenbach Feder

Majok is waiting to register for a World Food Programme distribution later in the month. He is one of hundreds of people moving from the islands to the mainland in Nyal, South Sudan, in search of food and safety. Younger family members had to help carry him during the one-and-a-half-hour trek through the swamps to make sure he was physically present for registration. 

Deqa

Photo: Petterik Wiggers/Oxfam

Eighteen days before this photo of Deqa was taken in Somaliland in northern Somalia, she gave birth to her sixth child, a son who has been experiencing stomach troubles. At the moment, Daqa, who is 26, is on her own: Her husband is away tending to a goat and the single camel they have left from their herd of 200. “We eat once a day—only rice,” she said. It’s not nearly enough to meet the needs of her growing children. “I give them tea and water to fill their stomachs,” Deqa added.

Adan

Photo:Petterik Wiggers/Oxfam

“Water is our main worry,” said Adan, a 58-year-old herder who has resettled in the Garadag district of Somaliland in northern Somalia with his five children. The family has moved many times in the past six months in a constant search for water. “We came here because we wanted to be closer to a water point, but the women have just got back and the water they collected is so hard and salty that we cannot even use it to dissolve milk powder. We cannot give milk to our children,” he said.

Yana

Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

When Boko Haram attacked her village in Nigeria during a wedding—taking the bride and other women—Yana, 27, fled with her four children. She now lives in the Kawar Mali ward in Maidiguiri, once the epicentre of the Boko Haram insurgency before the army expelled the group. Today, thousands of people displaced by the violence have found refuge in the area.

Millions in Yemen knowingly pushed to the brink of famine, warns Oxfam

March 23rd, 2017

Fighters in the Yemen war and their international backers are knowingly pushing the country to the brink of famine, Oxfam warned today, ahead of the two year anniversary of the escalation of the conflict. Nearly 7 million people have been pushed to the brink of starvation and 70 per cent of the population is in need of humanitarian aid.

Oxfam is calling for urgent action on two fronts: an immediate resumption of the peace process and for donors to provide the additional $2.1bn the UN says is needed for the humanitarian response. Currently the appeal is only 7 per cent funded.

Colm Byrne, Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Manager, said: “If the parties to the conflict – and those fuelling it with arm sales – continue to ignore Yemen’s food crisis, they will be responsible for a famine.

“The people of Yemen are being starved to death and may not survive the situation much longer. A fully funded humanitarian response is vital to prevent countless people dying needlessly but ultimately what Yemenis need is an end to the fighting.All sides to the conflict need to understand that famine is the real enemy of Yemen. Preventing famine must take priority over any side’s military aims. The world cannot wait for famine to be declared in Yemen or it will be too late.”

Airstrikes and fighting have killed more than 7,600 people, including over 4,600 civilians, forced over 3 million people from their homes and left 18.8 million people – 70 percent of the population – in need of humanitarian assistance, the greatest number in any country in the world.

Ports, roads and bridges, along with warehouses, farms and markets have been regularly destroyed by the Saudi-led coalition, draining the country’s food stocks. The Houthi led authority is delaying the delivery of life-saving relief, and sometimes detaining aid workers. This, coupled with a flattened economy, has created an abyss of hunger and led 6.8 million people to the brink of famine.

A blockade has been imposed on Yemen, preventing food coming into the country. While this has been partially eased, new restrictions on shipping and the destruction of many port facilities, such as the cranes of Al-Hudaydah port in August 2015, are punishing the Yemeni population and the country’s food supplies are running a critically low.

Fighting on Yemen’s west coast escalated last month, especially around Al-Hudaydah and Mocha ports, which risks cutting off vital supplies to millions of people. In a worst-case scenario where food imports drop substantially or where conflict prevents supplies being moved around the country, famine is possible.

An Oxfam food survey of 2,000 families who have been forced to flee their homes in north-west Yemen, between November and December 2016, found that 85 percent of people were going hungry. The only options they have are to reduce the amount of food they eat or feed what little they have to their children and go hungry themselves. They skip meals and end up buying food of lesser quality, often on credit. Some have no source of food at all and only survive thanks to humanitarian aid and people’s generosity.

In order to save the lives of millions of starving people, Oxfam is urging the United Nations Secretary General to pressure all parties to the conflict to resume peace talks, to reach a negotiated peace agreement and improve the economic situation in the country.

Oxfam is calling for all land, sea and air routes to Yemen to remain open and for attacks targeting military objects related to supply routes and infrastructure to not disproportionately affect civilians in accordance with International Humanitarian Law.

Oxfam is also helping people facing starvation in East Africa, South Sudan and Nigeria. In South Sudan, Oxfam is distributing food to over 415,000 people as well as providing over 140,000 people with clean water and sanitation. The agency is also helping over 300,000 in Nigeria, 255,000 people in the Southern Somali region of Ethiopia and has begun a response to the drought in Somalia with immediate plans to reach a minimum of 10,000 people with clean water, sanitation and cash assistance for food.

The public can support Oxfam Ireland’s Hunger Crisis Appeal at: https://www.oxfamireland.org/hunger

ENDS

 

NOTES TO THE EDITOR

Oxfam spokespeople are available for interview on the ground in the region and also here in Ireland, including Colm Byrne, Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Manager.

CONTACT: To arrange an interview or for more information, please contact: Alice Dawson, Oxfam Ireland, on +353 (0) 83 198 1869 or at alice.dawson@oxfamireland.org

WHAT OXFAM IS DOING IN YEMEN

  • We have reached more than a million people in eight governorates of Yemen with water and sanitation services, cash assistance, food vouchers and other essential aid since July 2015
  • We have given cash to more 205,000 people so families can buy food or livestock
  • 35,000 have taken part in our cash-for-work programmes

Fighting famine in East Africa, Nigeria and Yemen. Join us.

Across the world, millions of children, women and men are starving due to a devastating food crisis. A catastrophic combination of conflict and drought has left them facing terrifying food shortages – and there is no end in sight.

In Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia in East Africa, more than 19 million people are on the brink of starvation, while war in South Sudan has forced more than 3 million from their homes, and left millions more desperate for food. In February of this year, South Sudan became the first country in the world to declare famine since 2011.  

Photo: Tina Hillier/Oxfam

In the Somali region of Ethiopia, Fadumo lost three of her children – her triplets – to malnutrition when they were less than a month old. 

The 32-year-old farmer said: “They died because of a lack of food – they were malnourished. They were less than one month old. First one child died, then two more. I was afraid.

“How can anyone be happy when they have lost three children?”

Meanwhile, the drought has claimed two-thirds of her livestock.

“I had shoats and camels,” she explained. “Before, I used to have 60 animals, now I just have 20. I have one camel which is still alive.”

Now she fears for the lives of her remaining children and said: “What will they eat? We are getting some help – have some food and water.”

But she added: “We need many things. We need food which is nourishing. Food is our biggest need.”

Elsewhere, parts of Nigeria – where at least 4.4 million people are experiencing crisis levels of hunger – are also thought to be in the grip of famine. However, the situation in the country is so volatile due to conflict that it has been almost impossible to confirm that famine has taken hold.

And in Yemen, ongoing fighting between pro-government and rebel forces has left more than 17 million people on the brink of starvation. Without a massive humanitarian response, it will be impossible to avert famine.

Millions of people – in different parts of the world – have one thing in common: they are all experiencing the devastating impact of severe hunger on a daily basis.

Oxfam is supporting communities facing famine and hunger by distributing emergency food supplies and providing clean water and sanitation as well as providing cash or cash vouchers so people can buy what they need locally, supporting local business. We are working to prevent fatal diseases such as cholera by getting clean water to the most vulnerable, and to support them get their crops growing once again so that they can feed themselves and their families.

We are already helping over one million people in Yemen, more than 600,000 in South Sudan, over 300,000 in Nigeria, 255,000 people in the Southern Somali region of Ethiopia and plan to begin a response to the drought in Somalia.

In situations where hunger and malnutrition are rife, it is usually the children who suffer the most. Even if they manage to survive prolonged periods of extreme hunger, they often pay the price in the long term as they lose their immunity and their ability to fight disease.

Like countless other infants and children in South Sudan, Tabitha’s baby daughter is in danger of becoming severely malnourished. 

Photo: Bruno Bierrenbach Feder/Oxfam

Tabitha’s daughter is sucking on a dry “Tuok” – a dry seed from a type of palm tree which is eaten when there is nothing else left.

Tabitha fled with her baby to seek refuge in Garbek, a small community in Unity State, after they were chased out of their home when violence broke out.

Now, with food so scarce, Tabitha is desperate – and resorts to eating whatever she can get her hands on.

“We feed on water lilies, fish and anything we could find in the river,” said Tabitha, who also lost most of her animals during her journey.

“What we currently need is food [and] medication. The more time it takes the worse it shall be for us.”

We’re determined to act quickly to ensure that mothers like Fadumo and Tabitha do not see their children go hungry. We have already reached many thousands of people with food, water, sanitation and support – but we are most concerned about the people we have yet to reach. 

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