No money, no food and little hope
Millions of Yemenis don’t know where their next meal will come from
She is not pregnant, does not have a baby, is not displaced and all her children except two are married. Fatma does not fit into the category that gets food assistance or nutrition support. Her slightly hunched back tells of the heavy burden she has carried for the past 20 years.
Her husband died, leaving her with seven children to raise. She still takes care of a very sick son who is over 20 years old. Fatma’s face bears the signs of the hardship that many Yemenis endure each day. They look older than they really are.
“I can be 60, 70, any age! I do not know really. But I feel I’m a 100 years old,” she says.
The coast is not so clear
Fatma’s other son lost his only source of income. He is a fisherman who can no longer work because of the Yemeni conflict, which has taken over the coastline. Fighting along the Red Sea coast has also caused extensive damage to Yemen’s largest port, affecting food imports and people’s livelihoods.
“We lived a lot better, we lived like kings! My son worked in the sea and he brought enough money,” says Fatma. “Now I must work or we will have nothing to eat.”
Families in Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah bear the brunt of a war that has entered its third year. The governorate has some of the highest rates of malnutrition of the country and more than half its people do not know where their next meal will come from.
The World Food Programme (WFP) is only 43 percent funded in Yemen until the end of this year. While more than 17 million people need food assistance, WFP can only provide for about 7 million who are most in need. Families with pregnant or nursing mothers, and children at risk of malnutrition, as well as displaced families, are highest priority.
All of which means that people like Fatma are not receiving assistance. WFP has no other option than to prioritize the most vulnerable people, those at risk of starvation.
“We have nothing now, nothing but a crisis,” she says. “We’re going through the worst times ever. Even children live on bread and tea, that’s it.”
Neighbours help out
Fatma gets little jobs as a domestic help. She earns the equivalent of US$40 a month, and is only left with a third of that after buying a long list of medication for her sick son.
She takes matters one month at a time, not knowing how much money she will earn. “I might get 300 YR one day, 200 another and maybe nothing the next day,” she says. Almost left with nothing for food or clean drinking water,
Fatma says she lives mostly on the generosity of her neighbours.
Unlike some women on the same street at that hour, Fatma was not baking bread patties or lighting up a fire to cook something. She has nothing in her house. “We eat when we have food, otherwise we drink tea. And the neighbours might call on us to share their food.
“Neighbours are sometimes better than your own family,” she says, looking at one who has just walked in. In less than half an hour, Fatma is surrounded by about seven children, a mix of nephews and neighbours who treat her like a loving grandmother.
“I thank God for whatever I have, no matter how little it is,” she says with tears in her eyes. “The love they give me is worth more than money, I’m a mother to all of them.” Fatma’s name has taken over the street, as half the young girls in the alley have this name.
Even prior to the current conflict, Yemen was one of the poorest countries in the world and the poorest country in the Arab world. Conflict, however, has exacerbated the country’s fragile food security. Many families eat only bread and a few things on the side if they can afford buying a small bag of tomatoes or some rice.