Yemen

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

Cholera killing one person almost every hour in Yemen

08/06/2017

Oxfam calls for massive aid effort and immediate ceasefire.

Yemen is in the grip of a runaway cholera epidemic that is killing one person almost every hour and if not contained will threaten the lives of thousands of people in the coming months, Oxfam warned today. The aid agency is calling for an urgent, largescale aid effort and an immediate ceasefire in Yemen to allow health and aid workers to tackle the outbreak. 

According to the World Health Organisation, in the five weeks between 27 April and 3 June 2017, 676 people died of cholera and over 86,000 were suspected of having the disease. Last week the rate jumped to 2,777 suspected cases a day from 2,529 a day during the previous week. Given Yemen’s neglected medical reporting system and the widespread nature of the epidemic, these official figures are likely to be under reporting the full scale of the crisis. 

In the coming months there could be up to 150,000 cases of cholera, with some predictions as high as 300,000 cases. 

The cholera crisis comes on top of two years of brutal war which has decimated the health, water and sanitation systems, severely restricted the essential imports the country is dependent upon and left millions of people one step away from famine. 

Colm Byrne, Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Manager, said: “Yemen is on the edge of an abyss. Two years of war has plunged the country into one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, leaving it facing devastating famine. Now it is at the mercy of a deadly and rapidly spreading cholera epidemic. 

“Cholera is simple to prevent and treat but while the fighting continues, that task is made difficult and at times impossible. Lives hang in the balance - a massive aid effort is needed now. Those backing this war in Western and Middle Eastern capitals need to put pressure on all parties to the fighting to agree an immediate ceasefire to allow public health and aid workers to get to work saving lives.”

Oxfam said that the outbreak is set to be one of the worst this century if there is not a massive and immediate effort to bring it under control. It is calling on rich countries and international agencies to generously deliver on promises of $1.2bn of aid they made last month.

Money, essential supplies and technical support are needed to strengthen Yemen's embattled health, water and sanitation services. Health workers and water engineers have not been paid for months while hospitals, health centres, public water systems have been destroyed and starved of key items, such as medical supplies, chlorine and fuel. Even basic supplies such as intravenous fluids, oral rehydration salts and soap are urgently needed to enable an effective, speedy response - some of which will have to be flown into the country. Communities also need to be supported with their efforts to prevent the disease spreading and quickly treat people showing the first signs of infection. 

Oxfam Ireland is appealing to the public to donate to its hunger crisis appeal and support people facing famine in Yemen, as well as in East Africa, South Sudan and Nigeria: oxfamireland.org/hunger  

ENDS

CONTACT: For interviews or more information, contact:

ROI: Alice Dawson on 00353 (0) 83 198 1869 / alice.dawson@oxfamireland.org  

NI: Phillip Graham on 0044 (0) 7841 102535 / phillip.graham@oxfamireland.org

Notes to Editors: 

Stats on cholera outbreak: http://reliefweb.int/report/yemen/yemen-cholera-outbreak-dg-echo-who-ech...

Cholera is easily prevented with simple and affordable efforts at home and in the community, such as disinfection of water with chlorine, safe collection and storage of water, washing hands with soap, and understanding the myths, behaviours associated with cholera. When people suspect they have the symptoms they can drink a mix salt and sugar to rehydrate them while they make their way to the medical centre. 

 

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