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Victims of the Conflict in Yemen May Soon Lose Their Food Rations

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Last year, fighting escalated in Yemen in the conflict between the government and the Al Houthi rebels. The fighting forced at least 250,000 Yemenis to flee their homes in Sa’ada and other provinces in Northern Yemen. Many settled in or near refugee camps where they depend on the support of humanitarian organizations.

Maria Santamarina of the UN World Food Programme in Yemen recently sent me stories of Yemenis who have had their lives uprooted. They need the support of the international community.

Fleeing the fighting is hardship enough, but now these victims of conflict may be losing their food rations. Low funding for the World Food Programme (WFP) is threatening its entire operation in Yemen. A cease fire between the government and the rebels is holding for now. The challenge of hunger and malnutrition goes on.

Food is going to play a major role in establishing peace and stability in Yemen. This is a country where 1 in 3 people suffer from chronic hunger. The low funding for WFP prevents the start of any comprehensive food strategy to help Yemen. Aside from the rations for the displaced, food programs in other parts of the country have been suspended for months.

To voice support for Yemen, you can write to the new State Department office on global hunger (globalhunger@state.gov) or send a letter to President Obama.You can also contact your Senator at www.senate.gov. The Senate passed a resolution last year about keeping Yemen from becoming a failed state.

Here are some of the stories of Yemenis displaced by the conflict, courtesy of Maria Santamarina and Abeer Etefa of WFP. 

WFP Yemen Library of Stories – Sa’ada Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) (reverse chronological order)

Miriam – Al Mazrak Camp – February 2010

Fatima and her large family, including the family of her 4 sisters, fled to Al Mazrak during the first clashes in August 2009 from nearby Malaheet area in western Sa’ada. The conditions in the camp have improved since she first arrived, and she is happy and relaxed in the camp and is glad to have food from WFP to feed her large family, including her ailing 90 year old aunt.

Fatima looks forward to returning to her home, but that she had lost her 20 sheep – her main asset – when she fled the conflict. When asked what she will do if the conflict breaks out again, she simply smiled and bluntly stated that she would then flee once more. “I am not worried to go back to my home or even if I have to flee once more because I know that no matter where I am, WFP will continue to provide us with the food assistance we require for survival.”

            

World Food Programme rations may soon disappear in Yemen because of low funding. Already some food programs have been cut. (Abeer Etefa/WFP)

Story provided by Abeer Etefa – Al Mazrak Camp – February 2010

Displaced families in Mazraq camp in Hajjah Governorate, north of Yemen are closely following the news of a ceasefire, hoping that they will return home sometime soon.

Gomaa, a single mother of two boys fled one of the villages near Malaheet area with her 90 year old mother, two sons and her aunts and children. They have arrived in the camp during the month of Ramadan, five months ago.

Since they arrived to the camp which hosts as many as 18,000 IDPs, they have been receiving food assistance from the World Food Programme.

"There are so many things to worry about in our daily life in the camp; worries about my husband and father who went to work in the field but never came back; worries about when we can go back home, but fortunately we do not have to worry about what we will eat everyday," said 21 year old Gomaa. "The food assistance that we have been receiving from WFP has been life saving as we fled our home with few clothes and with an old mother and young children, I cannot find work in this area."

Ahmed – Al Mazrak Camp – February 2010

Ahmed arrived in Al Mazrak camp just after the outbreak of the Sa’ada war. He and his family have been living in a tent in the camp for 7 months, relying upon humanitarian agencies to meet his family’s most basic needs. After nearly 6 months into his stay in the camp, Ahmed and friends in the neighboring tents began to come together to discuss ways to make life a bit better, a bit more entertaining.

Ahmed is from a farming community in Al Dhaher district of Sa’ada, so his first instinct was to collect some inexpensive seeds from the nearby market. He began growing plants, including corn. “Here in Mazrak camp it is so hot, dry, and windy. It is nice now to see some green – it feels like home for my family,” said Ahmed.

The group then began to create molds and using the manure from their livestock mixed with the dry dirt of the camp to make bricks. Using a piece of string as a lever, the bricks are laid out one by one to create small huts and even kitchens. Ahmed is pleased, as he was able to create a shaded area for his wife and family to sit in during the day, when the hot sun pounding on the tents makes the heat unbearable. He is now helping others to build similar structures, and to chase the boredom away until his family is able to return to their home in Sa’ada. 

Sua’ad and Nasha’a – Scattered in Hajjah – January 2010

While standing in the line for WFP food distribution in Haradh town, Sua'ad (21) and Nasha'a (20), two sisters who fled the conflict, talked about their hopes for the future.

Throughout the early months of the sixth Sa'ada war, the two sisters lived with their parents and six other siblings on their farm in Razeh district near the border with Saudi Arabia. However, as the fighting intensified and grew closer, the family was forced to leave, and made their way to the town of Haradh – near the Al Mazrak IDP camp in Hajjah governorate.

The sisters are registered to collect assistance as they are the only members of their family with official ID cards, but their brothers were waiting outside the distribution center to help them carry their monthly food rations of wheat grain, beans, oil, salt and sugar. "I am very thankful for the food," said Sua'ad, "as it helps my family while we are away from our home."

Both sisters talked of returning to their family’s farm once the fighting stops, but for the immediate future are more interested in going back to school: Sua'ad is studying science, while Nasha'a proudly said "my favorite subjects are English and history."

Adiba – Al Mazrak Camp II – January 2010

Adiba and her sister fled with their families when the Sa’ada conflict escalated following regionalization. They spent the first 1.5 months as scattered IDPs, and a few days ago were able to move into the newly established Al Mazrak II Camp.

Her family lives in two nearby tents. “Life is hard, my husband tries to find some casual labour but has not been lucky” said Adiba. “We are very grateful for the food provided by WFP which is very good and necessary since we have no money. The assistance helps us while in displacement, but we still miss home.”

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About William Lambers

William Lambers is the author of several books including Ending World Hunger: School Lunches for Kids Around the World. This book features over 50 interviews with officials from the UN World Food Programme and other charities discussing school feeding programs that fight child hunger. He is also the author of Nuclear Weapons, The Road to Peace: From the Disarming of the Great Lakes to the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Open Skies for Peace, The Spirit of the Marshall Plan: Taking Action Against World Hunger, School Lunches for Kids Around the World, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, From War to Peace and the Battle of Britain. He is also a writer for the History News Service. His articles have been published by newspapers including the Cincinnati Enquirer, Des Moines Register, the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Buffalo News, San Diego Union Tribune, the Providence Journal, Free Lance-Star (VA), the Bakersfield Californian, the Washington Post, Miami Herald (FL), Chicago Sun-Times, the Patriot Ledger (MA), Charleston Sunday Gazette Mail (WV), the Cincinnati Post, Salt Lake Tribune (UT), North Adams Transcript (MA), Wichita Eagle (KS), Monterey Herald (CA), Athens Banner-Herald (GA) and the Duluth News Journal. His articles also appear on History News Network (HNN) and Think Africa Press. Mr. Lambers is a graduate of the College of Mount St. Joseph in Ohio with degrees in Liberal Arts (BA) and Organizational Leadership (MS). He is also a member of the Feeding America Blogger Council.