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At a glance: Yemen

In Yemen, a mother struggles to keep her children alive

By Kate Rose

For a family in Yemen caught in the midst of conflict, a temporary ceasefire brings relief, but disease and malnutrition remain a serious threat – even more than bombs and bullets. 

AMMAN, Jordan/ADEN, Yemen, 20 May 2015 – Mohammed Hussain* and his family are among the survivors of recent heavy fighting in Salah Al-Din, Borykah, an area in Aden, southern Yemen. “I am sad. I am very sad, everything around me is falling apart,” 13-year-old Mohammed says. “I hear my mother hopelessly crying in the night. I hear my stomach cramping out of starvation.”

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF/NYHQ2015-1292/Yasin
A girl pushes two younger children in a wheelbarrow filled with jerrycans and water jugs, as they fetch water in Sana’a, Yemen's capital.

Even amid the conflict, disease and lack of food are deadlier threats to children than bullets and bombs. Reports show that food stocks are critically low, and commercial imports of food and fuel are sporadic.

Prices of food and fuel have skyrocketed, with food prices increasing by an average of 40 per cent, and fuel by five times. Humanitarian aid workers carrying life-saving supplies to areas affected by conflict have on occasion been attacked or detained. 

Mohammed Hussain’s mother, Um Mohammed, knows it’s a battle against time. “We are very poor, and now because of this fighting, we are always hungry,” says the mother of three. “They said the airstrikes a few weeks back destroyed Malla flour mills, and because of lack of fuel, no food supply comes from nearby governorates like Taiz.”

Um Mohammed says that bakeries in their area have closed, and the one shop that sells bread has raised prices dramatically.

“The bread is too small to feed even one child,” she says. “I haven’t received my late husband’s pension for March yet, and it’s already May.”

A challenge to survive

For young Mohammed, survival now hinges on the money that comes from the homemade food items his mother sells. But this lifeline is as fragile as the power supply they rely upon. And if a missile or stray bullet doesn’t strike their home, then something else will, like diarrhoea or malnutrition – both of which are on the increase as health services and hygiene conditions in the city deteriorate.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF/NYHQ2015-1297/Hamoud
Boys hold shrapnel from exploded artillery shells on a street damaged by blasts in Sana’a. Intensified conflict since late March has taken a heavy toll on children and their families, with more than 1,500 people killed, including 115 children, prior to the 12 May pause.

All three children know that keeping them alive is the greatest challenge their mother has ever had to face.

Unable to function without fuel, local health services and hospitals have been forced to shut down. Before the conflict escalated in late March, some 850,000 children under 5 suffered from acute malnutrition. With the collapsing health care system, this figure is only likely to increase. 

There has been some good news for Mohammed and his family, however: After nearly seven weeks of intense fighting, parties to the conflict agreed to a five-day ceasefire to allow aid to reach communities in need. The ‘humanitarian pause’, which began on the evening of 12 May, enabled safe passage for the delivery of critical supplies throughout the country to hospitals, health centres and communities, with the aim of reaching as many of those vulnerable and injured children as possible.

“My children and I are so anxious. God knows how long we can cope,” says Um Mohammed sadly. “We have lost everything except our dignity.”

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*Names have been changed.


 

 

UNICEF Photography: Emergencies

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