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As donors meet in Geneva, families in Yemen forced to make desperate decisions to survive

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Donors meet in Geneva today to pledge funding for the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, which has left almost ten million people one step away from famine. The Geneva conference is expected to deliver much-needed attention and resources for the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

Donors meet in Geneva today to pledge funding for the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, which has left almost ten million people one step away from famine. The Geneva conference is expected to deliver much-needed attention and resources for the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. But money is simply not enough, while families flee airstrikes, ground level shelling and fighting, and landmines across the country, there are limits on where and how aid can be delivered, and Yemeni families being pushed ever closer to the brink by a collapsing economy. People are forced to take desperate measures to stave off hunger. Peace and stability is the only way forward.

Oxfam’s Country Director in Yemen, Muhsin Siddiquey said: “Donors meeting today in Geneva to pledge assistance to Yemen need to make sure there’s enough funding to get vital food, water and medicine to meet people’s basic needs. But only an end to the conflict can halt the downward spiral that is forcing people to take desperate measures. All warring parties and their backers need to fully commit to a nationwide ceasefire and take concrete steps towards a lasting peace.”

After nearly four years of conflict, families in Yemen are feeling more desperate than ever. Fighting has forced many families to flee to isolated areas that lack basic infrastructure including schools, water networks, proper sewage disposal systems or health centers. Many of them are living in small tents or mud houses which offer little protection against sun, rain or freezing temperatures during winter nights. Since the escalation of conflict in 2015, food prices in Yemen have soared while household incomes have plummeted. With no income and limited job opportunities, many families can’t afford enough food and resort to skipping meals, eating only bread and tea, buying food on credit, or begging.

Oxfam spoke to families in Amran governorate who have had to make impossible decisions to keep their families alive. Parents who had dreams of sending their daughters to school for a better future have instead had to promise them in marriage – in one case as young as three years old – to buy food and shelter for their families to survive another day. Though early marriage is a longstanding practice among some families in Yemen, marrying off girls at such an early age in desperation for the money paid from the husband to buy food is shocking, and these parents are tortured by their decision.

Siddiquey said: “As this war has gone on, people’s means to cope with the threat of their families starving to death have become increasingly desperate. They’re being forced to take steps that blight their children’s lives now and for decades to come. Many parents know this is unacceptable, but they feel that gnawing hunger has made this their only solution to save their families now and hopefully provide some stability for their children. This is a direct result of a man-made humanitarian catastrophe caused by conflict. The international community needs to do everything in its power to bring an end to the fighting and ensure people have the food, water and medicine they so desperately need.”

In surveys late last year, 99 percent of people in Taiz who had received assistance from Oxfam said the adults in the family had reduced how much they ate to give more food to their children and 98 percent had cut down the number of meals they were eating every day. More than half said they had borrowed food from friends or relatives. Almost two thirds of people said they had taken on debt. In almost all cases this was to buy food, medicine or water.

Oxfam delivers cash and other aid, which helps them to avoid these painful choices, preserving the possibility of a healthy and prosperous future for the children of Yemen. But aid is not enough while war rages and families don’t feel safe, can’t find work or afford the everyday means to survive.

Just over a week ago, Yemen’s internationally recognized government and the Houthis agreed on the first phase of a withdrawal from the key port city of Hudaydah, following talks between the parties in Sweden in December. Reaching the agreement has been slow and it’s not yet clear what, if any, impact it will have. Oxfam calls on all parties to redouble their commitment to the political process and expedite progress toward a political settlement and nationwide recovery.

Notes to Editors:

  1. Younger girls are usually spared from living as husband and wife in the marriage until they have reached 11 years old, but before that are made to do household work in their husband’s home.
  2. Oxfam works with other NGOs who focus specifically on child protection and other services to refer cases of abuse or exploitation.
  3. Photos and stories of families who have been forced to arrange marriages for their young daughters are available here

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Lauren Hartnett
Humanitarian Media Lead
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