Yemen on brink of hunger catastrophe [audio slideshow]
Caroline Berger Regional Information and Communications Officer – Middle East, Eastern Europe and Commonwealth of Independent States
23rd May 2012
The Friends of Yemen conference taking place today offers a critical opportunity to make a difference in the lives of millions of ordinary Yemenis. Yemen is facing a severe humanitarian crisis with 10 million people - 44 percent of the population - without enough food to eat. Millions of people are unable to afford to feed their families, and are being driven deeper in poverty. Photographer Wolfgang Gressmann recently visited Yemen to find out how Oxfam's cash grants are helping people to cope with crisis:
"Yemen is facing an increasingly complex humanitarian situation. You are really wondering how people are able to survive.
"Women we spoke to in Al Hodeidah report that they are sending their boys to Saudi Arabia when they are unable to feed them. Many families also need to withdraw their children from school in order to send them to work.
"I was extremely impressed by the way Oxfam has organised these events distributing cash to hundreds of people. I believe people were truly happy to receive this type of assistance. During the distribution we saw some extremely poor people including single mothers, elderly and handicapped.
"You see a lot of malnourished children, single mother headed households who are definitely accompanied by children that show the sign of high levels of malnutrition. When I was speaking to some of the beneficiaries they confirmed that they will use the large part of the cash, 80%, to buy essential food items. What was interesting was to see in Al Hodeidah during the cash grant distribution that women from the remote areas were wearing traditional colourful dresses which is a rather uncommon site in Yemen where they are mostly wearing black abaya cover ups.
"The photo of the boy was during a cash grant distribution in Al Hodeidah where a young single mother with her children was waiting in a queue to collect her identification card by Oxfam. It was definitely an important moment for these people as I realise they have not received any assistance over the past couple of months, and I believe they were eagerly waiting to get something which they can bring back home.
"This girl was wearing school uniform which is a good sign that children are still able to go to school. Her mother was blind and it was a touching moment to see her guiding her blind mother away back into the line to collect the identification cards.
"In this image we see Oxfam staff carrying out focus groups discussions with male returnees. In the discussion the returnees informed Oxfam that one of their main problems is the contamination of the area with mines and explosives which effectively prevents them to revive their agricultural production. Only a few people are able to maintain their livestock breeding. Most people have lost their property during displacement.
"I do hope that Yemen will get some adequate attention and support over the coming weeks. The seasonal hunger period which runs from May to October is just starting. I fear that it will be hard eventually to raise money until there is some evidence that people are indeed starving to death in Yemen. What I take with me from talking to these communities is that the most important thing that people want is hope, and hope by having partners that are supporting them over a longer period of time and not just by a single distribution of humanitarian aid."