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Aid worker diaries: Yemeni families close to breaking point

14th Dec 2011

In Yemen, the focus on the political situation continues. But as food and fuel prices escalate, ordinary Yemenis are struggling to cope. Kelly Gilbride, Oxfam's policy advisor in Yemen, spoke to some of the families who are facing rising levels of malnutrition and hunger, and turning to alternative livelihoods to survive.

Rahima hides her face with her scarf, while tears fall from her eyes.

"My husband left a long time ago to the sea. I haven't heard from him, and the situation has become very hard."

Desperate to feed her five kids, Rahima, sold her only goat and sent her son to work as a fisherman.

"I had no choice but to send my son to find food. He is just ten years old. I don't know if he is alive, the last call from him was twenty days ago," Rahima looks away, exhausted and regretting her decision of sending her child away.

Jobs and incomes have been hard hit by the crisis, making food difficult to afford. Hodeida, Rahima's home, is among the five governorates with more than half a million food insecure people and the majority of the men have left for the sea. Many families have been torn apart - mothers have no choice but to send their husbands and sons to find work as fisherman on the perilous seas.

"I don't have a farm to plant crops, and because of the fuel crisis people have stopped farming so I cannot work on their lands. A few months ago, my goat died whilst giving birth, and I couldn't afford veterinary care. I was mourning, watching the dogs eating its dead body," she says.

A recent Oxfam study in the western coastal governorate of Hodeida found families to be coping - but only just. Many families were facing unemployment or reduced working hours and lower pay. Nearly a fifth of those surveyed had put their children to work after withdrawing them from school. Other families were selling off valuable items in order to buy food. ''Families were close to breaking point'' the study concludes.

"Food prices increased. My husband couldn't find a job…the only option was the sea" explains Rahima.

It's a familiar story. Anisa, 20, whose husband drowned at sea, is struggling to take care of her two daughters, one of whom is suffering from malnutrition.

"Amina is two years old, I have nothing to feed her but breastmilk,"" said Anisa, who herself seemed to be malnourished and living like many other women in the village - a basic hut with no power and sparse furniture.

"The only food available is bread and tea. If we get money we may buy tomatoes or potatoes to boil and eat with the bread," explains Amina.

Oxfam is helping people like Amina and Rahima to access their basic needs by transferring cash to vulnerable families so they can buy food. But as political uncertainty drags on, donors need to step up their commitment. In a country, where 7.5 million people do not have enough to eat, the international community must act immediately to tackle the growing humanitarian crisis so that Amina, Rahima and others are able to feed their families and live in dignity.

Oxfam's work in Yemen