President Dwight Eisenhower once called for nations to explore all possible means of using food for peace. We are unfortunately not seeing enough of this today, especially when it comes to Yemen.
Yemen is a country where one in three people are chronically hungry. While the U.S. sent $150 million in military aid recently to Yemen, food programs there are being cut because of lack of funding. My interview with Jennifer Mizgata of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) shows the tragedy unfolding.
Abeer Etefa, a WFP officer from Cairo, just traveled to Yemen to visit camps that are home to people displaced by the fighting in the northern part of the country. What she saw was tremendous hardship being faced by many Yemenis who depend on WFP food rations. These rations are being reduced right now and may soon be stopped entirely if the international community does not provide new funding. Here are the stories of a few of the people at these camps.
Aicha is a pregnant woman who was forced from her home because of the conflict in the North. With her six children she fled to the Al Mazraq Camp for displaced persons, and later delivered a boy at the camp without even seeing a doctor.
Aicha says, "I had to walk for days till we reached Al Mazraq and then few weeks later, I delivered a baby boy. Being away from home with 7 children is so difficult. The tent is not enough for all of us and I have to work very hard to keep everything organized and to meet the needs of the whole family."
Reduced rations are hardship enough for Aicha's family and many others in Yemen. Should rations be stopped completely, think of the consequences, especially for the children. They may suffer lasting physical and mental damage.
photo of Aicha at the Al Mazraq camp in Yemen (World Food Programme photo)
Fatima, a 28-year-old woman in the Al Mazraq IDP camp in Hajjah Governorate, says,
We arrived to the camp on the first day of Ramadan (around August of 2009), 15 of us all from one family. My niece was very sick so she was the only one that had the privilege of getting a ride on the donkey but the rest of us walked for miles. All my sheep and livestock were killed in the fighting and raids but I do want to go back home. It is very difficult to be in this camp situation but I am feeling that I am safe in the camp. If I go home and things deteriorate again, I will leave home again. The hardest thing on earth on any human being is to feel that you are forced to leave your home. As a woman, I feel that getting the family together and providing meals, doing laundry and all of the house chores is super challenging in this environment…living in tents in this weather.
There are also camps in Southern Yemen for Somalis who have fled the fighting in their country. Rahma, a 42-year-old Somali woman in Kharaz refugee camp near Aden says,
I have arrived to Aden in 1991 after a perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia. The country slipped into total chaos and we had no other choice but to run. I have 8 children with me and my husband divorced me three years ago and disappeared from the camp. Life in Kharaz camp is very difficult and we hardly have any means to sustain ourselves or to support our families in this isolated spot in the desert other than the assistance that we receive from aid agencies and the food that we get from WFP. The food is hardly enough for 23 days but the children receive the wheat soya blend porridge in the schools so at least we have one of the children's meals secured for once a day. I have tried going to Aden and working as a cleaner but leaving behind 8 children including very young kids is not easy. Who is to take care of them while I am away? It is already hard enough for these kids to be displaced and away from home so you want to add to this being deprived of a father and a mother? I am ready to go anywhere on earth because my life is very difficult and we cannot see the end. What is our future? Where is our life?
What is our future? Where is our life? These are questions that the international community can help answer. New funding can restore rations for people living in the camps. Food programs could be restarted throughout Yemen as part of a comprehensive strategy for improving food security. Think of the WFP school feeding program that was suspended last June. Restarting these food initiatives can help build the peace the people so desperately need.
For people in Yemen, or anywhere around the globe, food is the foundation that will ensure a better life, provide a better future.
What food can also do is give people and entire countries hope. And that may be the strongest tool for peace that can be offered.