Photos: Florian Seriex for Action Against Hunger
Yemen: Held hostage by conflict
At a nutrition centre in Hayis, Hodeidah, we met fragile young Ahmed and his desperately worried parents, Roda and Ali.
Sep 7 2016
Little Ahmed uses what little strength he has left to grasp hold of his father Ali at the Hayis nutrition centre in Hodeidah, Yemen, as our team assess him. It is clear that the young boy, like hundreds of thousands of children in Yemen, is severely malnourished and in need of urgent help.
Ahmed was carried into the centre by his desperately worried father and his mother Roda.
"A mobile team from Action Against Hunger has been to our village several times," said 25-year-old Roda as she sat on the bed beside her sleeping child. "People had told me about the centre because they could see that my son was not growing. He was very ill and I was told that it would be clean and there would be food for him here."
The family made the one-hour journey together by motorcycle.
"Since I've been here I feel good," she said, "except when the generator is switched off because it is very hot."
A child is being assesssed for malnutrition at an Action Against Hunger-supported nutrition centre. Photo: Florian Seriex for Action Against Hunger
In March 2015 a Saudi-led coalition launched air strikes against the Houthis – an armed group in Yemen - triggering a dramatic escalation in the armed conflict. Eighteen months later, the Yemeni population remain hostage to the fighting and their needs are overwhelming. Approximately 14.4 million people are unable to meet their daily food needs, including at least 7.6 million who are severely food insecure – that’s one in five people. Children, as always, bear the brunt of the hardship this conflict has brought: 1.3 million children are in urgent need of nutritional support.
Thankfully, Ahmed was able to access the help he needed. When he arrived at the centre with his parents, he was immediately assisted by Action Against Hunger staff, who took his measurements to assess his condition. He was quickly diagnosed with malaria and malnutrition, and treatment for both began immediately. While treating Ahmed, the centre's staff also offered Roda some advice on ways to care for and feed her son, amid the difficulties facing families across the country.
Families pay the price of ongoing conflict
While Roda and her husband were not forced to leave their homes like nearly three million other Yemenis displaced by the violence, they have been affected by the conflict.
"Life has become harder,” she said. “It’s more expensive, very expensive.”
Ali, Roda and Ahmed at an Action Against Hunger-supported nutrition centre. Photo: Florian Seriex for Action Against Hunger
It’s not just the price of goods that is a problem. The war and embargoes put in place by the coalition have caused high inflation and a scarcity of goods in the country. Roda now faces paying 2,500 Yemeni riyals for a 5kg bag of rice – it was worth less than half that before the conflict.
“There is a small shop in the village but often the owner cannot afford to buy products,” she explained. “Then we have to go to the market, which is in Hayis, an hour from home. Going there costs us money and sometimes we can’t afford the petrol.”
Ali, Roda’s husband, lost his job early in the conflict. "I worked in construction but the building next door to mine was destroyed by an air strike. All the staff fled."
He bought a few animals with the money they had left, but over the months he was forced to sell them and got into debt.
"We have had to borrow a lot of money, almost 20,000 Yemeni riyals, since the beginning of the year," Roda said. That’s more than US$ 80 dollars, which is just less than the average monthly wage in Yemen before the conflict began – about US$100.
Enough is enough
More than 320,000 children could die from severe acute malnutrition in a country where the nutritional situation was already critical before the conflict. The ongoing negotiations in Kuwait must lead to a political solution and peace so that civilians no longer have to suffer the consequences of this conflict.
In the meantime, we urgently call on all parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law and allow aid workers safe and sustained access to children like Ahmed, to provide them with the life-saving treatment they need.