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Yemen's Famine: Not Enough Food, and Plenty of Blame

In this Oct. 1, 2018 file photo, a malnourished boy sits on a hospital bed at the Aslam Health Center, Hajjah, Yemen.
In this Oct. 1, 2018 file photo, a malnourished boy sits on a hospital bed at the Aslam Health Center, Hajjah, Yemen.

The World Food Program’s decision to suspend parts of its food aid program in Yemen has caused concerns.

Until recently, many Yemeni families received a monthly amount of food from the World Food Program. It included 75 kilograms of wheat, two bottles of cooking oil, sugar, and lentils. The aid stopped because of an argument between the agency and the Houthi officials over who would be in charge of the food distribution system.

U.N. officials now say the Houthi's have agreed to use a new biometric registration system to prevent the theft of food aid. The WFP hopes to restart providing food aid to 850,000 people in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, soon. But for many of the people suffering hunger during Yemen’s six-year civil war, that is not soon enough.

Mohammed Qaid worries about his four-day-old boy Nazeh. Qaid has seven other children. But he has little hope that he can feed his family.

Qaid is among the thousands of people in Sana’a, a Houthi stronghold, who is dependent on international food aid. His family now survives on leftover food from Sana’a’s few restaurants.

"We're now sort of dependent on…leftover rice,” he told VOA. “We pay dishwashers $0.80 for collecting leftover rice."

Qaid tells VOA his young sons were crying the morning of the interview because he did not have the money for two eggs. Instead, they just drank tea.

The war in Yemen began in 2014 when the corrupt, but legitimate, government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi was attacked by Iranian–supported Houthi rebels. The internationally recognized government quickly collapsed, and the rebels took the capital. Since then, they have been fighting a coalition led by Saudi Arabia, which wants to restore the Hadi government.

The conflict has left 13 million Yemeni civilians without food. U.N. officials say the situation in Yemen is now the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. It is also one of the largest man-made famines in history.

Both sides in the war are to blame. The Houthi rebels have been accused of unlawfully taking food and reselling it to pay for the war. They often attack supply lines. And Saudi Arabia’s campaign of air strikes has made it nearly impossible for Yemen to produce food. The strikes have also made it very difficult to distribute food aid. The international rights group Human Rights Watch says the Saudi air strikes are “illegal.”

The food shipments that manage to get through often do not make it to those who need it.

Last year, WFP director David Beasley told the U.N. Security Council there is “serious evidence that food was being (stolen) and going to the wrong people.” As many as 60 percent of residents of the capital, he said, were not receiving food.

WFP officials say using a biometric registration will help identify those who need aid the most and limit corruption.

I’m Susan Shand.

VOA’s Gabrielle Resnick reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter Jr. was the editor.

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Words in this Story

distribution - n. the act of giving things out

biometric – adj. a system of identification that examines eyes, fingerprints and faces

legitimate – adj. true, acknowledged as real

famine - n. a time of little food when people starve