As 'Hungry Season' Nears, Yemenis Struggle For Food For years, Yemen has been a crisis of one sort or another. But now, after a year of protest and unrest, the situation for millions of Yemenis is dire. About 10 million people are without enough food to eat, and more than half of Yemeni children are malnourished, aid groups say.
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As 'Hungry Season' Nears, Yemenis Struggle For Food

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As 'Hungry Season' Nears, Yemenis Struggle For Food

As 'Hungry Season' Nears, Yemenis Struggle For Food

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Yemen has long struggled as one of the least developed countries in the world. But now, after a year of protest and unrest that saw the country's long-time dictator step down, the situation for Yemenis is even more dire. Aid groups say some 10 million people are now without enough food. More than 200,000 children face life-threatening malnutrition. NPR's Kelly McEvers sent this report from Yemen's hot western plains off the Red Sea.

KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: We're standing here in the main souk in the village of Hays. This is kind of your main commerce center that serves a lot of the surrounding villages. NGOs that work with people going hungry here in Yemen say that there are basically three types of people. You have people who have no money and no access to markets. And then you have people who have money but no access to markets. And then you have the third category of people, and that's the people living here. These are people who have access to markets. I mean, this is a thriving market town, you can hear the activity. There's vegetables being sold, there's meat being sold. But the people at the very margins simply do not have the money to buy it.


MCEVERS: Just outside the market town and off the main road is the tiny fishing village of Dhami Robat.


MCEVERS: Women in brightly colored prints greet us with kisses.


MCEVERS: One pulls me toward a young mother holding a baby.

His leg is about...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: big around as a carrot. Very tiny, tiny baby.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Her husband drowned in the sea.

MCEVERS: The women say the child is very sick. We're shocked to hear that this tiny person - the smallest baby I've ever seen - is two years old. It's likely the child has severe acute malnutrition, which means he could die if not treated soon.

We ask the women why there are no men in the village. They tell us they're all at sea, fishing.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: If they find fish, they bring it. If they don't, we don't have food.

MCEVERS: So they try to get by on bread and tea and sometimes a watery salsa called sahouwak, made of tomatoes and spices. The women say they sometimes go for weeks like this. The result is not just the at-risk two-year-old, but dozens of too-thin, stunted children.

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine...

In all there are more than 30 children for just five households. The aid workers we're with say this village has always been poor but managed to survive. Now a perfect storm of factors has dragged the village into crisis.

First, the rain stopped coming a few years ago. Then, pirates started robbing the fishermen of their catch. Then, political unrest last year caused a massive fuel crisis. That meant nearby farmers stopped farming, and the little work these women could get came to a halt. It also meant the cost of transportation to the nearby market was simply too high. Now, the women and children have no idea where the next round of food will come from.

This is the bag of flour that's basically what everybody survives on, really. How much longer will this bag last?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Five or six days.

MCEVERS: The British charity Oxfam is distributing cash to communities like these so they can go to the market and buy food. But this particular village wasn't registered on the government list that charity groups use. So these people have fallen through the cracks.

Back in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, we meet Oxfam's country director Collette Fearon. She concedes the government list isn't perfect.

COLLETTE FEARON: But we can't wait. People at the moment are hungry. And you can't wait until you've got perfect systems and perfect lists before you can actually address the needs that you can meet.

MCEVERS: Fearon says Oxfam has set aside money for some people who didn't make the list.

Aid groups acknowledge that cash payments are only a short-term solution for people who live near markets. Others, who have no money and no market, simply need food - and fast.

A recent meeting of the so-called Friends of Yemen in nearby Saudi Arabia pledge $4 billion in aid. But a subsequent donor conference has been postponed.

Aid groups say they've received about half of the money they need to address the most dire cases. But with Yemen's so-called hungry season of hot, dry months approaching, Fearon says people are simply running out of time.

Kelly McEvers, NPR News, Sanaa.


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