Hunger stalks children in Yemen as UN cuts aid programs

The war, which wrecked the devastated country’s already fragile ability to feed its population, began late in 2014, when Houthi rebels swept down from the mountains and occupied northern Yemen and the capital, Sanaa. (File/AFP)
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Updated 29 June 2020

Hunger stalks children in Yemen as UN cuts aid programs

  • The situation in Yemen is only expected to get worse as donor countries recently cut back on aid amid the coronavirus pandemic

AL-HANABIYA, Yemen: When Issa Nasser was born late last year in a village in northern Yemen, his weight was about 3 kilograms, or 6.6 pounds. Now, the 7-month-old infant weighs nearly the same — less than half the average weight for his age — and has wafer-thin skin and emaciated limbs.
Issa’s condition mirrors what the UN children’s agency warned about last week, that millions of children in war-torn Yemen could be pushed to the brink of starvation as the coronavirus sweeps across the Arab world’s poorest country and as humanitarian agencies suffer from a huge drop in funding.
The baby’s father, Ibrahim Nasser, a 51-year-old displaced fisherman now living in the village of Al-Hanabiya in the district of Abs in Hajjah province, said the family has spent most of Issa’s months-long life so far in a health care center, some 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) from the village. The ill-equipped medical center services more than 50,000 displaced people in the district.
Four years ago, when fighting between Yemen’s Houthi rebels and government forces, backed by a Saudi-led coalition, escalated, Nasser left his home village near the coastal city of Midi, also in Hajjah province, on the border with Saudi Arabia.
Since then, he has been unemployed and depends on aid to feed his family, which became part of more than 3 million people displaced by the war, many pushed to the brink of famine amid stalemated fighting and a coronavirus pandemic that is ripping through the country.
“I am a poor person, and my son is in this state,” said Nasser. “And they tell me he is malnourished, you can see how his condition is.”
The health care center found out about the infant recently through a local charity which provides aid to displaced in the area, said Dr. Ali Hajjar, who oversees the malnutrition clinic at the center.
“His condition is very, very tragic. He suffers from acute malnutrition. His skin is stretching tightly over his bones,” the physician said.
The war, which wrecked the devastated country’s already fragile ability to feed its population, began late in 2014, when Houthi rebels swept down from the mountains and occupied northern Yemen and the capital, Sanaa. The Iran-backed rebels pushed the internationally recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to the south and eventually into exile.
As the rebels pushed farther south, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states, backed by the United States, formed a coalition to take on the Houthis, and intervened in Yemen in 2015, describing their involvement as an effort to stop Iran from gaining sway over the country.
The conflict has killed more than 100,000 people and created the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, with more than 3 million people internally displaced and two-thirds of the population reliant on food assistance for survival.
The situation in Yemen is only expected to get worse as donor countries recently cut back on aid amid the coronavirus pandemic and also due to concerns that the aid might not be reaching its intended recipients in territories controlled by the Houthis.
Some 24 million Yemeni people, which is 80 percent of the country’s entire population, require some form of assistance or protection, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA. And 75 percent of UN programs for the country, covering essentially every sector, from food to health care and nutrition, have already shut their doors or reduced operations.
The World Food Program had to cut rations in half and UN-funded health services have been reduced in nearly 200 hospitals nationwide.
Nutrition programs will also be cut, affecting 260,000 severely malnourished children. More than 1 million women and 2 million children need treatment for acute malnutrition, OCHA said earlier this month.
Last week, UNICEF warned that unless $54.5 million are disbursed for health and nutrition aid by the end of August, more than 23,000 children will be at increased risk of dying because of acute malnutrition. It also said that 5 million others under the age of 5 will not have access to vaccines against deadly diseases.
“We cannot overstate the scale of this emergency as children,” said Sara Beysolow Nyanti, UNICEF representative to Yemen. “If we do not receive urgent funding, children will be pushed to the brink of starvation and many will die.”
Yemen has officially recorded more than 1,000 cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, including 275 deaths. However, the actual tally is believed to be much higher as testing capabilities are severely limited, and the Houthi rebels have not revealed the number of infections in areas under their control.
“I don’t have anything to give him,” said Nasser, the fisherman, looking in despair at his boy, little Issa, and the child’s large, wide-open eyes.


Turkey picks up the pieces after devastating quake

Updated 31 October 2020

Turkey picks up the pieces after devastating quake

  • Although the local residents are used to living with frequent tremors, the 7.0 magnitude quake on Friday evening was the biggest they had experienced

ANKARA: Canan Gullu was having coffee with her friends on her balcony when the quake struck. The head of the Ankara-based Women Associations of Turkey, she had decided to spend the weekend in her summer house in the coastal town of Seferihisar after sleepless nights spent helping victims of domestic violence in the capital.

The teacups fell on the ground, and they hid under a table until they feel safer.

“I felt the building shaking, then the house began moving toward the house next door. It was as if the ground was moving back and forth under our feet. We could barely stand,” Gullu told Arab News.

It was followed by a mini-tsunami that hit the district where she was living.

“I am now focusing on providing essential goods for the women living on the streets or whose buildings collapsed. It is the other face of poverty in Turkey,” Gullu said.

The powerful quake that hit Turkey’s western province of Izmir on Oct. 30 revealed the weak infrastructure of the country’s building stock. Although the local residents are used to living with frequent tremors, the 7.0 magnitude quake on Friday evening was the biggest they had experienced; it was as powerful as the 1999 earthquake near Istanbul when more than 17,000 people died.

The search and rescue operations continued on Saturday, with touching footages showing a mother and her three children as well as a cat and a dog being rescued 18 hours after being trapped under the debris of their building.

Turkish survivors continue to stay outside in the tents provided by the municipality for fear of aftershocks. Some hotel and restaurant owners offered free rooms and free dinners to the traumatized people.

To prevent traffic blocking rescue efforts, the authorities have banned vehicles entering the city center.

Friday’s quake killed more than 30 people in Turkey and the neighbouring Greek islands, although that figure was expected to rise. Almost 900 people were injured, with 243 under treatment and eight in intensive care, officials said.

Despite their diplomatic row over energy drilling operations in the waters of the eastern Mediterranean, Turkish and Greek officials exchanged solidarity messages on Twitter.

“Whatever our differences, these are times when our people need to stand together,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis tweeted.

Many people were still waiting for news of relatives trapped under the debris.

Izmir is crossed by 17 different fault lines and has been prone to frequent tremors in the past. The quake resilience of the buildings in the city and unplanned urbanization have come under the spotlight, sparking criticism of the authorities.

The Turkish government issued a controversial zoning amnesty ahead of the general elections of 2018, resulting in 10 million illegally constructed buildings throughout the country.

These were eligible for legitimate deeds, with disastrous consequences during the quakes. Izmir tops the list for the number of illegal buildings that were “forgiven” by a government move to garner more votes.

Several buildings that benefited from that amnesty have collapsed over the years, killing dozens of people. Estimates say that one-fifth of the buildings in Istanbul could be completely destroyed in a quake with a magnitude of 7 or above.

In a past interview, Turkey’s famous contractor Ali Agaoglu, who was proud of selling massive residences to Arab clients, confessed that his company used sand from the Marmara Sea during their construction work. “If there is an earthquake in Istanbul, (the number of the dead and collapsed buildings will be so high that) the army won’t even be able to enter the city,” he said.

Turkey’s earthquake tax was also the subject of intense debate earlier this year with the quakes in eastern provinces of Elazig and Malatya, after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: “We spent it where it was meant to be spent. And after this, we do not have time to provide accountability for matters like this.”

Special taxes were levied in Turkey after the 1999 earthquake and were later made permanent. However, there is widespread skepticism about whether these taxes were spent on quake resilience or whether they only helped the state budget at that time.