An internally displaced woman attends to her malnourished children outside their makeshift shelter at a temporary camp in Hodan district of Somalia's capital Mogadishu, 26 August 2011. FEISAL OMAR / REUTERS

By Iona Craig, Special for USA TODAY
21 July 2012

MARALI, Yemen – In this village under the sweltering summer heat of Yemen's Red Sea coastal region, six women and a small boy huddle on the floor around a plate of watery tomato sauce mixed with fish remnants.

Judging by his size, the boy looks about 5 or 6 years old. He tugs at a piece of bread to dip in the dish that might stretch to feeding two people in a Western restaurant.

Sadeq is actually 12 years old.

Half of Yemen's children are chronically underfed, leading to stunted growth and other consequences. The country's levels of malnutrition are second only to Afghanistan's, according to the United Nations. In the province of Hodeida, where Sadeq lives with his family, one in three children are malnourished, double the United Nations emergency levels.

The crisis is testing the West's commitment to Yemen, whose leaders have been fighting an al-Qaeda faction here in cooperation with the U.S. military. Al-Qaeda has tried to win the loyalties of villagers by providing them food and improving living conditions.

The political unrest and fighting has taken a toll. Entire villages have abandoned their rented farmlands. Prices for fuel tripled, and villagers in many towns are unable to afford the diesel needed to pump water to irrigate crops.

Former farmer Salman Ahmed Marali, 60, says this is the "worst crisis faced by Yemen in my lifetime."

Usually the 300 or so families here would subsist on the crops they grow, selling some for income and keeping small herds of goats and cattle. But unable to afford diesel prices, families who work in the fields surrounding the village were forced to give up planting crops and had to sell their livestock for money.

"We've faced crisis like this before, but food was available; we fed off the land. But now there is nothing. The future is zero," Marali said, as six gaunt grandchildren gathered around him. His daughters can no longer afford to give fruit and vegetables to their children, he says.

Crying and staring at his distended belly, 6-year-old Warood cannot walk on his spindly legs.

"We become so familiar with sickness," said Warood's mother, who in accordance with social norms here does not give her name to outsiders. She says she has watched two of her children die. "I have to decide: Do I buy rice or medicine?"

The United Nations estimates that 267,000 Yemeni children are facing life-threatening levels of malnutrition. In the Middle East's poorest country, hunger has doubled since 2009. More than 10 million people — 44% of the population — do not have enough food to eat, according to the United Nation's World Food Program.

Last month, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) pledged an additional $6.5 million in humanitarian assistance to Yemen, but aid agencies said Thursday that they still lack the money to support 300,000 people in need of help in Hodeida province. This month, they can only assist 100,000.

"Lack of funding is severely limiting what we can do," said Colette Fearon, Oxfam's country director in Yemen.

The U.N. also says it needs $591 million in aid to meet current needs. It has received less than half that amount. […]

Yemen's children caught in food crisis


  1. Gail said...

    The die-off has only just begun and is about to accelerate with accompanying chaos. Lester Brown held a press conference Thursday (completely eclipsed by the massacre in Aurora) indicating the USDA has underestimated by half the loss of corn yield expected, in which he used the word "food security" as in, it isn't, over and over along with "unrest".

    One of the most alarming things I learned in terms of global food supply and prices (and the potential to make the Arab spring look like a picnic): "...the State of Iowa produces more grain than Canada. The State of Iowa also produces more soybeans than China. The State of Illinois is not far behind. The basic point is that this is exceptional agricultural land that we have in the U.S. Corn Belt." He also makes the rather obvious point that when one or two major crops fail, the price rises and shortages ripple throughout the entire food supply. Everything has some corn in it, apparently, and if not that, it is a grain interchangeable with wheat and rice.

    We're all doomed, but the impoverished people in Yemen and places like that are doomed sooner.  


Blog Template by Adam Every . Sponsored by Business Web Hosting Reviews