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Mothers Fight for Children’s Lives, Hunger in Yemen

2018-5-8

A young mother in Yemen stood on the scale for a doctor. Even wearing her long, black clothing she weighed only 38 kilograms.

The mother, Umm Mizrah, is pregnant, but starving. She is giving all her food to her children.

The doctor’s office was filled with pictures of starving babies who have come through Al-Sadaqa Hospital in Aden.

They are suffering because of a three-year civil war in Yemen that has left millions of people near death from starvation.

Mothers like Umm Mizrah miss meals, they sleep to escape the pain in their stomachs. They hide thin bodies in their heavy, black abayas.

The doctor asked the mother to get back on the scale holding her son, Mizrah. At the age of 17 months, he was 5.8 kilograms. That weight is about half the normal weight for his age.

He was suffering from “acute malnutrition.” His legs and feet were swollen. He was not eating enough protein.

Umm Mizrah, a 25-year-old Yemeni woman, holds her son Mizrah on a scale in Al-Sadaqa Hospital in the southern Yemen city of Aden in this Feb. 13, 2018 photo.
Umm Mizrah, a 25-year-old Yemeni woman, holds her son Mizrah on a scale in Al-Sadaqa Hospital in the southern Yemen city of Aden in this Feb. 13, 2018 photo.

Millions of Yemenis suffer from lack of food

The United Nations says 2.9 million women and children in Yemen are acutely malnourished.

Nearly one third of Yemen’s population, or 8.4 million people, are fed with food aid or else they would go hungry. That number has grown by 25 percent over the past year.

Aid agencies say that parts of Yemen could soon start to see widespread death from famine. More and more people need aid that is already failing to reach people.

The war is between Yemen’s Shiite Houthi rebels who control the country’s north, and the Saudi-led coalition that supports the government. The coalition is supported by the United States. It has tried to defeat the rebels with a bombing campaign in support of the Yemeni government.

The Associated Press reports that the number of dead is unknown. Officials are not able to get numbers.

However, the aid organization Save the Children estimated late last year that 50,000 children may have died in 2017 of extreme hunger or disease.

Hagar Yahia, a Yemeni woman, shows the amount of flour she uses to make a loaf of bread, in this Feb. 15, 2018 photo taken in Abyan, Yemen.
Hagar Yahia, a Yemeni woman, shows the amount of flour she uses to make a loaf of bread, in this Feb. 15, 2018 photo taken in Abyan, Yemen.

‘World’s largest humanitarian emergency’

Stephen Anderson is the Yemen director of the World Food Program. He said, “Unfortunately, now Yemen is considered to be the world’s largest humanitarian emergency.”

Even before the war, the Arab world’s poorest nation struggled to feed itself. It is a country of deserts and mountains with little water. Only 2 to 4 percent of the land is farmed. Almost all of its food and supplies must be imported.

The war has destroyed almost everything needed to secure food supplies. Bombing by the coalition has destroyed hospitals, schools, farms, factories, bridges and roads.

The coalition has also put an embargo on Houthi-controlled areas. These areas include the Red Sea port of Hodeida. Little food gets in. Coalition forces permit UN approved ships and aid only, often with delays.

The United States gives a lot of assistance to the coalition campaign. The U.S. has provided intelligence and billions of dollars in arms. It also provides help in planning and organizing.

The State Department adds that the U.S. has provided nearly $854 million to ease the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

In many places there is food in the markets, but people do not have money. The currency has collapsed, there are few jobs, and those with jobs are often not paid.

Umm Mizrah and her husband have three young daughters in addition to Mizrah. They usually eat one meal a day, often just bread and tea. The Associated Press identified her by a false name to protect her privacy.

When the doctor in Aden told her malnutrition could cause her baby to die, she was frightened. But, the parents felt helpless.

“I don’t know what is right,” she said quietly. “He was playful and doing fine then he started to get sick and stopped breastfeeding and playing.”

The AP traveled across southern Yemen, an area held by the government. Reporters visited places among the 107 areas that the U.N. warns are most likely to face a severe lack of food.

All are living with pain and fear.

I’m Susan Shand

This story was reported by the Associated Press. It was adapted by Susan Shand. Mario Ritter edited the story.

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Words in This Story

scalen. a device that is used for weighing people or things

abayan. a long black robe mostly worn by women in the Middle East.

acute adj. very serious or dangerous

malnutrition n. the unhealthy condition that results from not eating enough food

swollenadj. the state of being larger than normal

faminen. a situation in which many people do not have enough food to eat

currency n. the money that a country uses