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'Picking leaves from the trees': How locals in Yemen are surviving on the brink of famine

People have been killed by shelling on their way to collect bread, a Red Cross aid worker said.

Image: Hani Al-Ansi DPA/PA Images

LOCALS IN THE Yemeni city of Taiz are cutting up small rations of bread, and picking leaves to put in soup, as the country teeters on the brink of famine, the Red Cross has said.

The conflict between the Saudi-backed government and Shiite rebels has persisted for two years, and has resulted in social and economic catastrophe in the country.

Irish aid worker Ciaran Cierans, who has been in Yemen since October 2016, said that it is the “most challenging” situation he has dealt with during his 12 years of work as an aid worker.

He said: “Food prices have also significantly increased, partly due to difficulties getting supplies into the country. Food staples such as wheat have doubled in price if compared with pre-crisis levels.

With no food entering the country, our food stocks are stretched to meet the daily increasing needs.

The Red Cross created partnerships with local bakers to provide bread to some 13,000 families and, across the 45 bakeries, bread is given to over 70,000 people every day.

“The bread was meant to supplement other food items,” Cierans said. “But on a recent round of visits, we found that this bread was all that most people were eating.

Some families were actually cutting up the bread and trying to make a soup out of it so it would spread further, others were picking leaves from trees to try to make it more nutritious. This is a country on the brink of famine.

Collecting the bread has proved fatal for some, in a city under constant shelling.

Cierans said: “We have also had people killed on their way to collect the bread.”

Due to financial constraints however, the bread programme will finish in August. Cierans said that it is very costly to keep running, but it is hoped that a means will be found to extend it.

The plan now is to distribute food parcels to a further 12,000 households, which would contain the essential requirements for a family of six.

“The food parcel should actually cover most of their dietary needs, however it won’t cover everything,” he said.

Aid distribution in Sanaa Source: DPA/PA Images

Cholera

Meanwhile, the cholera outbreak that has killed more than 1,000 people has shown signs of slowing in recent weeks.

Nearly 219,000 suspected cases have been registered since April 27 and more than 1,400 people have died, the World Health Organisation said this week.

The collapse of Yemen’s infrastructure after more than two years of war between the Saudi-backed government and Shiite rebels who control the capital has made for a “perfect storm for cholera,” the WHO’s senior emergency adviser for Yemen, Ahmed Zouiten, said.

But fatality rates have dropped from 1.7 percent in early May to 0.6 percent now, he added.

He attributed the fall to emergency intervention by health workers.

Reported cases of cholera have also dropped in recent days with 39,000 over the past week compared with an average of 41,000 in previous weeks.

But Zouiten cautioned that the decline in numbers might be due to underreporting over the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday.

He said the total number of cases could still double before the outbreak ends.

The United Nations has warned 300,000 people could contract the highly contagious infection by September.

Hospitals have struggled to cope with the outbreak. The war has left less than half of the impoverished country’s medical facilities functional.

With reporting from AFP

Read: White House says travel ban will prevent ‘acts of bloodshed and violence’

Read: Yemen is facing the worst cholera outbreak in the world

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Sean Murray

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