Acute hunger in Yemen - families hang in the balance

Published on 11 July 2010

Abdo's ailing parents

Copyright: WFP/Maria Santamarina

Hunger and malnutrition are widespread in the country and require urgent intervention. WFP's recent Comprehensive Food Security Survey found that one in three Yemenis is acutely hungry, making Yemen the 11th most food insecure country in the world.

Rayma is the most food insecure governorate in Yemen with extremely high levels of poverty and malnutrition; 53 percent of the population is acutely hungry.

Abdo is a father to 15 children; only his young son Majed attends school. The children are barefoot and wear tattered clothes. The family relies on the limited income brought in by casual wage labour and some minor agricultural production. It is barely enough to feed the family, and Abdo must borrow from neighbours and shops in order to secure some basic needs for survival. Due to the extreme heat, the family spends their days and nights outside.

Abdo’s ageing mother lies on a wooden bed, pulled together using braided rope. Her ragged clothes are tied on with twine to keep them from falling off her thin, fragile body. "Life is very difficult. There is not enough food for the family to eat,” she utters between short breaths. "I have difficulty walking and feel pain. But there is no medical facility nearby. Even if there were, with what money would we buy medicine?"

Nearby, one of Abdo’s wives – Saeed Hassan – mixes borrowed flour with water from a local well and bakes the mix in a traditional Yemeni wood-fired oven dug into the dirt. They will eat this bread for all three meals. It is the only thing keeping the family alive. "I am extremely sad that I cannot give my children more,” she says, shaking her head sadly as she kneads the dough. "As a child I was able to go to school, and I am very sad that my children, my daughters do not have the same opportunity. One wants a better life for their children, not this," she says and looks tearfully off into the distance.

Hanging in the balance

WFP recently launched an operation to address life-threatening levels of hunger and malnutrition, including an emergency food safety net for 1.7 million severely food insecure Yemenis during the hunger season. Nutrition support is planned for 242,000 malnourished pregnant and nursing  mothers and children in order to address the inter-generational cycle of malnutrition, treat and prevent acute malnutrition, and provide an incentive to visit health centres.

Today, the operation is at a standstill for utter lack of funds.

Abdo and his family have already lost seven children to hunger-related diseases. He has two more newborns on the way. Without increased support, the lives of his soon-to-be born infants and 15 remaining children hang in the balance.

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about the author

Maria Fernanda Santamarina

Reports, Media and External Relations Officer

Maria Fernanda is a national of Argentina and USA. She joined WFP in 2007 working in Yemen.