Thursday, July 26, 2012

Political crisis over, Yemen now faces a lack of food

July 25, 2012
By Adam Baron — McClatchy Newspapers
BEIT AL FAQIH, Yemen — Life, Omar Abdullah Zaki says, has never been particularly easy. A day laborer who’s never had a truly reliable job, Zaki has seen two of his six children die before their first birthday, at least partially, he admits with shame, because of his inability to provide his family with enough to eat.
But while hard times are nothing new, he says, little had prepared him for the struggle he faces today. Work has all but dried up. Lacking a steady income, he’s borrowed money just to cover essential costs. And as debts have risen, his daily life has become a series of tragic dilemmas, leaving him sleepless as he debates whether to make debt payments, settle bills or buy food for his family.
 “This is the worst it has ever been. I worry constantly, never ends,” he said, flinching with a mix of despair and humiliation. “For what, 20 days over the past two months, I’ve had to let my children go to bed hungry.”
Yemen has long suffered from chronic poverty, but the past year – filled with political turmoil amid a protest movement that ended the 30-year rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh and a determined offensive by al Qaida-linked insurgents – has pushed the country to what international aid agencies have called a dire humanitarian catastrophe. As the country’s fragile economy has been brought to the brink of collapse, unemployment has risen and prices of staples like rice and flour have skyrocketed, leaving huge number of Yemenis struggling to afford basics like food, fuel and electricity.
According to the United Nations, as many as 10 million people – more than 40 percent of Yemen’s population – don’t have enough to eat; 267,000 Yemeni children suffer from severe malnutrition. Yet the problem has received little attention in the outside world, where Yemen’s role in the battle against international terrorism dominates coverage of the country.
Doctors in western Hudayda province, one of the hardest-hit areas, say they are struggling to cope with the numbers of malnourished children coming to local hospitals for treatment. Simultaneously, many aid workers say that efforts to expand are restrained by financial concerns. In a joint statement last week, Oxfam and Islamic Relief warned that unless they receive a huge infusion of cash, they’ll be forced to delay new food programs that were set to start this month.
 “We have plans ready and are quite ready to scale up our operations,” said Lydia Tinka, the project manager of Oxfam’s Hudayda office. “While we had originally had plans to reach 300,000 people here, we’re limited to only being able to reach 100,000 due to a lack of funds.”
Even such assistance programs, however, reach only a fraction of the millions in desperate need of help. Many Yemenis in this impoverished region say they’ve almost given up hope for an improvement.
In al Hawak, a neighborhood of simple cinderblock homes in the inland market town of Beit al Faqih, the collective sense of desperation is obvious – even though Beit al Faqih has avoided the worst of Yemen’s turmoil and remains a rare bastion of relative calm. Still, even without the death and destruction of factional fighting, the fallout from the past year has left many here struggling to avoid starvation.
Mobbed by emaciated children in a two-room home she shares with her extended family, Ghana Fathi Hussein said it’s hard for her to imagine any way out of the crisis. Her husband, a motorcycle cab driver, averages less than $2 a day – barely enough to make payments on the family’s mounting debt, let alone feed their 11 children. Help, from the Yemeni government or the international community, has yet to arrive.
 “Life’s never been easy, but I swear, compared to this, we were living in paradise two years ago,” she said, gesturing to the pencil-thin arms of her 10-year-old daughter. “We seek refuge in God.”
Hussein’s aunt, Fatima Ahmed, interrupted her niece to complain that the family has been forced to subsist almost entirely on bread and water.
 “We can’t really worry about tomorrow,” she said. “We’re too busy dealing with the struggles of today.”
Baron is a McClatchy special correspondent.

Al Qaeda-tied militants attack south Yemen village

ADEN, July 25 (Reuters) - Al Qaeda-linked militants attacked a village in south Yemen on Wednesday, fighting to regain control of territory for the first time since they were driven from their strongholds in a U.S.-backed army offensive last month.
The head of a local militia said his fighters had managed to repel the militants, killing two of them in clashes in the village of Batias in the province of Abyan, where armed Islamists established a foothold last year.
Wednesday's attack highlighted the enduring threat of Islamist militancy in Yemen and may alarm the United States and Saudi Arabia, who increasingly view the impoverished state as a front line in their war on al Qaeda and its affiliates.
Militants went on a rampage in Abyan last year, seizing several towns and imposing sharia (Islamic law) while then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh grappled with mass protests that that eventually toppled him.
Washington supported a Yemeni army campaign that was hailed as a major victory after the area was "liberated" from Islamist fighters in June. But residents and analysts say the militants are simply lying low and waiting for a chance to regroup.
Despite losing their territorial base, militants have since shown their clout remains formidable, assassinating a top southern military commander and killing 10 people in a suicide bombing at a police academy in the capital Sanaa.
On Tuesday, two militants were killed in the southeastern port city of Mukalla when an explosive device they were preparing to use against local security officials went off by accident, a local official said.