Years of conflict pushing people in Yemen to edge of famine

Fatima Abdo Mohammed
Fatima Abdo Mohammed lives with her four surviving children in Lahij, where they tend a small herd of goats. Two of her children died in an airstrike. Sami Jassar/Oxfam

Families seek safety amidst fighting and epidemics; an end to war is the only solution to humanitarian crisis.

Four years ago Fatima Abdo Mohammed says she was trying to get her children to a safe place, away from fighting, when they stopped to rest and were hit by an airstrike. “My sons were preparing food when we were hit…” she says. “Two of my children died, Aida and Moath. They were in their first years of school.”

Mohammed and her other four children are now in southern Yemen near Lahij, where they live in a one-room wooden house in the desert. They take care of a small herd of goats, and it is a difficult life. “We eat only rice for lunch,” Mohammed says. “Previously, we were living in dignity,” but now, she says, “we are suffering here a lot. We do not have anything, we are without jobs.”

Zaid Salem takes care of his granddaughter in Lahij governorate in southern Yemen. He and his extended family fled fighting to this area, leaving behind their home, farm, and livestock. He says they are unable to return because there are now landmines in the area. His granddaughter’s parents died in the fighting. Sami Jassar/Oxfam

The people of Yemen are suffering through an extended civil war, which has displaced three million people, disrupted imports of vital goods like food, fuel, and medicine, and devastated the economy. Roughly half of Yemen’s health facilities are not fully functional, while the country has faced a massive cholera epidemic (1.3 million suspected cases) that has killed 2,760 people. With food prices rising exponentially and the economy collapsing, families can’t find work to afford food, and 15.8 million people do not know where they will get their next meal. Many are living in near-famine conditions, and 24 million of the 30 million people in Yemen need humanitarian assistance. Oxfam staff have met families that have married off girls – in some cases at a shockingly young age-- in exchange for money they need for food and medical care.

Oxfam response

Oxfam has been working in Yemen to provide clean water, proper latrines, and hygiene items like soap to help people keep clean and avoid cholera and other diseases. The organization is giving cash to help families buy food in local markets, helping displaced farming families with seeds and tools, and providing job training and other support for families to start small businesses. The organization is specifically targeting economic empowerment assistance to women with young daughters who might be vulnerable to early marriage.

At the Jabal Zaid camp for displaced people in Taiz governorate, people who have fled the conflict are living in makeshift tents. Oxfam has constructed latrines, and provided hygiene items like soap and information about how to prevent water-borne diseases in the camp. Oxfam staff have learned that some of the families have had to marry off their young girls in exchange for money for food. Sami Jassar/Oxfam

Oxfam has helped three million people in Yemen since July 2015, including more than 420,000 people in Taiz governorate with water and sanitation services and cash assistance. Oxfam works closely with a growing network of Yemeni organizations, who are invaluable partners due to their expertise and expanding reach.

But the only sustainable solution to the massive suffering in Yemen is an end to the conflict. Oxfam is advocating for the warring parties to commit to a ceasefire, allow full humanitarian access, and engage in peace talks that include women and youth.

Oxfam has advocated for years for a peaceful end to the conflict and for the US to end its role in the war. One joint statement with Save the Children, CARE and the Norwegian Refugee Council called for an end to arms sales to all sides of the conflict. “The countries selling arms to warring parties in Yemen need to stop these deals with immediate effect and put in place strong monitoring and accountability mechanisms, so that devastating weapons will no longer kill and injure civilians in Yemen,” says the statement, issued on February 26th.

Alia (not her real name), 26, has struggled to convince her family in Al Dhale’a to allow her to train in sewing, weaving, and embroidery. “Girls aren’t allowed to go out, study, or work,” she says. She found support through a project carried out by Oxfam’s partner Abna Al Dhale’a Association, and is now learning these handicraft skills. “This is just the beginning of my life,” she says. “I want to be an important person in the future.” Sami Jassar/Oxfam

US Congress debates

In the US, Oxfam has also called on its supporters in the US to urge Congress to pass a proposed Yemen War Powers joint resolution. The measure passed the Senate on 13 March. “This vote sends another strong message that US leaders are willing to take a stand for peace and political agreements that will save millions of lives in Yemen,” Oxfam’s Humanitarian Policy Lead Scott Paul said on the day of the vote. “We see this vote as another signal to the parties to the conflict and the people of Yemen that the US won’t stand by and watch Yemen fall deeper into hunger, disease, financial collapse, and despair.”

“Only peace through political agreements, bolstered by Congressional and other pressure, can bring relief to the millions of Yemenis on the brink of famine.”

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