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How food became a weapon of war in Yemen


>>Stewart: WE TURN NOW TO OUR ONGOING SERIES OF REPORTS INSIDE YEMEN. THE CIVIL WAR THAT HAS RAGED THERE SINCE 2015 SHOWS NO SIGNS OF LETTING UP AS THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY STRUGGLES TO FIND A WORKABLE PEACE PLAN. CAUGHT IN THE CROSSFIRE ARE YEMENI CIVILIANS, 75% OF WHOM REQUIRE HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE EVERY DAY JUST TO SURVIVE. AND AS SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT MARCIA BIGGS REPORTS, FOOD ITSELF HAS BECOME A WEAPON OF WAR. THIS STORY WAS PRODUCED IN PARTNERSHIP WITH THE PULITZER CENTER ON CRISIS REPORTING. AND A WARNING: THIS PIECE CONTAINS SOME GRAPHIC IMAGES.>>Reporter: IN THIS PEDIATRIC WARD IN ADEN, EVERY ROOM TELLS A VERSION OF THE SAME STORY. 11-MONTH-OLD MALIKA AL KHADER CLINGING TO LIFE. WEIGHING ONLY SEVEN POUNDS, SHE’S JUST ONE OF THE 17 MILLION YEMENIS WHO AREN’T GETTING ENOUGH FOOD TO SURVIVE. “WE ONLY EAT ONE MEAL A DAY,” HER MOM TELLS ME. “WE FLED FROM MOKHA THREE MONTHS AGO, AND WE’RE LIVING IN A CAMP.” IS THERE FOOD IN THE CAMP? “THERE’S ONLY RICE, TOMATO SAUCE, AND A LITTLE BIT OF WHEAT,” SHE SAYS, “AND I’M BREASTFEEDING.” WHEN DID YOUR BABY BECOME SICK? MALIKA CAN’T GET THE NUTRIENTS SHE NEEDS BECAUSE HER MOTHER DOESN’T HAVE ENOUGH FOOD. MALIKA IS HALF THE WEIGHT SHE SHOULD BE AT 11 MONTHS OLD. HER IMMUNE SYSTEM VULNERABLE, SHE CONTRACTED MEASLES AND WENT INTO SEPSIS.>>SHE CAN DIE FROM HYPOTHERMIA.>>Reporter: HER DOCTOR, AIDA AL SADEEQ, SAYS THESE ARE COMPLICATIONS THAT ARISE FROM MALNUTRITION. OTHERS CAN INCLUDE CHEST INFECTIONS AND MENINGITIS.ALLCAN PROVE FATAL. HOW OFTEN DO YOU SEE THESE CASES?>>FROM 30-40 MONTHLY.>>Reporter: 30-40 MALNOURISHED CHILDREN PER MONTH, SEVERELY…>>ACUTE MALNOURISHED.COMPLICATEDMALNOURISHED, NOT MERELY MALNOURISHED.>>Reporter: WHO DO YOU BLAME? OR WHAT DO YOU BLAME?>>THE WAR. THE WAR. FIRST OF ALL, STOP THE WAR.>>Reporter: THE BEAUTY OF YEMEN’S LANDSCAPE BELIES A SOCIETY THAT HAS ALWAYS SUFFERED. IT WAS THE POOREST COUNTRY IN THE REGION BEFORE THE WAR, AND NOW IT’S THE SCENE OF WHAT’S BEING CALLED THE WORST HUMANITARIAN CRISIS IN THE WORLD. IT BEGAN IN 2014 WHEN HOUTHI REBELS OPPOSING YEMENI GOVERNMENT CORRUPTION TOOK OVER HUGE PARTS OF THE COUNTRY. THE HOUTHIS ARE A PREDOMINANTLY SHIITE SECT, BACKED BY IRAN. IN 2015, THEY INVADED THE STRATEGICALLY CRUCIAL SOUTHERN PORT CITY OF ADEN, AND THERE WAS A FIERCE BATTLE. THE GOVERNMENT ASKED SUNNI SAUDI ARABIA FOR HELP IN DEFENDING THE CITY, WHICH IT DID WITH AID FROM A COALITION INCLUDING THE UNITED ARAB EMIRATES AND THE UNITED STATES. THE COALITION THEN DROVE THE HOUTHIS NORTH WHERE THE BATTLE CONTINUES. TODAY, BOTH SIDES IN THE CONFLICT USE FOOD AS A WEAPON OF WAR– THE HOUTHIS BY HIKING FOOD PRICES TO FINANCE THEIR WAR EFFORT, AND THE SAUDI COALITION BY ATTEMPTING TO STARVE THE HOUTHI SIDE INTO SUBMISSION. FOR TWO MONTHS LAST YEAR, THE SAUDI GOVERNMENT BLOCKADED THE HOUTHI-HELD PORT OF HODEIDAH IN AN ATTEMPT TO CHOKE ITS SUPPLY LINES. FOR A COUNTRY THAT HISTORICALLY HAS RELIED ON IMPORTS FOR 90% OF ITS FOOD, IT WAS CATASTROPHIC. AMID INTERNATIONAL OUTCRY, THE SAUDIS EASED THE BLOCKADE IN JANUARY. BUT IN ORDER TO CONTROL WHO GETS BOTH FOOD AND FUEL ENTERING YEMEN, THE COALITION REQUIRES SOME SHIPS TO BE DIVERTED TO THE ALREADY CROWDED PORT OF ADEN, WHICH THE COALITION OVERSEES. YOU CAN SEE THE REMNANTS BEHIND ME OF YEMEN’S COAST GUARD, WHICH WAS HIT SO HARD IN 2015 IN THE BATTLE WITH THE HOUTHIS. THEY’RE NOW TRYING TO REBUILD THEMSELVES, AND THEY’RE IN CHARGE OF SECURING THE WATERS OFF ADEN’S COAST. THEY’RE GOING TO TAKE US OUT TO A SHIP, AN AMERICAN SHIP, WHICH IS CARRYING AID FOR THE WORLD FOOD PROGRAM. APPARENTLY, IT WAS QUITE DIFFICULT, QUITE A COUP TO GET THE PERMISSIONS EVEN TO DOCK HERE IN ADEN. BUT THEY’RE STUCK SEVERAL MILES OUT TO SEA BECAUSE OF RED TAPE AND CORRUPTION JUST WAITING FOR A PARKING SPACE. ALL THESE SHIPS ARE WAITING?>>ALL THE SHIPS, YEAH.>>Reporter: OUR GUIDE FOR THE DAY IS MARWAN AL BAKSHI. HIS UNIT IS ASSIGNED TO WATCH OVER THE SHIPS THAT ARE WAITING FOR PERMISSION FROM THE COALITION TO DOCK. WHAT’S THE LONGEST ONE OF THESE BOATS HAS WAITED OUT HERE?>>SOME OF THE SHIPS, THEY ARE WAITING FOR 20 DAYS.>>Reporter: FOR 20 DAYS?>>YES.>>Reporter: THREE WEEKS SOME OF THE SHIPS HAVE WAITED.>>YES.>>Reporter: IS IT HARD FOR YOU AS A YEMENI?>>OF COURSE, YEAH.>>Reporter: TO SEE THAT THIS FOOD IS STUCK AT 15 NAUTICAL MILES OUTSIDE?>>I’M REALLY FEELING SAD ABOUT THAT. YEAH. BUT I HAVE NO AUTHORITY TO DO. WHAT I CAN DO?>>Reporter: MM-HMM.>>MY JOB IS TO PROTECT HER. THIS IS FOOD FOR THE YEMENI PEOPLE. THEY NEED IT. IT’S TOO IMPORTANT.>>Reporter: THE SHIP SAT OFFSHORE FOR FIVE DAYS. THEN FINALLY IT ARRIVED HERE AT THE PORT OF ADEN’S MILL, WHERE THE GRAIN ONBOARD WAS OFFLOADED AND WILL BE TURNED INTO FLOUR. THE U.N.’S WORLD FOOD PROGRAM, THE W.F.P., IS ON THE FRONT LINE IN THE FIGHT TO FEED ALMOST 60% OF THE COUNTRY. SHASHI DHARAN IS THE PROGRAM OFFICER IN ADEN, AND THESE ARE THE BINS DESIGNATED FOR THE W.F.P. IT’S THE LEADING SOURCE OF FOOD AID IN THE COUNTRY, BUT IT’S STILL FEEDING LESS THAN HALF OF THE 17 MILLION IN NEED. WE SAW TODAY THE GRAIN STREAMING IN. SO, WHY ARE YEMEN’S PEOPLE STARVING?>>WE ARE PROVIDING FOOD, BUT WE ARE NOT PROVIDING FOOD TO EVERYBODY. WE DO NOT HAVE ENOUGH FUNDING AVAILABLE WITH US.>>Reporter: EVEN IF THEY HAD THE FUNDING, GETTING THE FOOD TO THE PEOPLE LIVING ON FRONT LINES IS ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE DUE TO CONSTANT FIGHTING. AND THERE ARE HURDLES, TOO, IN GETTING THE FOOD TO THE REST OF THOSE IN NEED. WITHOUT PROPER CLEARANCES, AID ORGANIZATIONS RUN THE RISK OF THEIR TRUCKS BEING BOMBED.>>THERE’S A LONG PROCEDURE OF GETTING THE CLEARANCES AND INFORMING THE LOCAL AUTHORITIES AND THE SECURITY BELT FORCES THAT OUR TRUCKS ARE MOVING THESE. AND IT NEEDS TO MOVE IN THOSE SPECIFIC TIMES BECAUSE IF IT DOESN’T MOVE IN THOSE SPECIFIC TIMES, IT COULD BE AT THE WRONG TIME AT THE WRONG PLACE OR ACCIDENTALLY BEING ATTACKED.>>Reporter: HOW TOUGH IS THAT RED TAPE TO GET THROUGH?>>SOMETIMES JUST TO GET COUPLE OF TRUCKS, IT COULD TAKE 5-6 DAYS OF DELAY, WHICH MEANS…>>Reporter: DELAYED 5-6 DAYS?>>YEAH. LET’S SAY THE FOOD WAS SUPPOSED TO REACH ON THE 10th, IT IS LEAVING FROM YOU ON THE 15th. BY THE TIME IT REACHES TO PEOPLE AT THE END OF THE MONTH, THE WHOLE MONTH THEY HAVE GONE HUNGRY.>>Reporter: IF YOU ARE DELAYED BECAUSE THE SHIP’S OUT AT SEA, THEN YOU ALREADY START DELAYED.>>EXACTLY.>>Reporter: SO, IT’S DELAY UPON DELAY.>>IT’S LIKE A FIREFIGHTING EXERCISE ON A DAILY BASIS.>>Reporter: A LOOMING FUEL CRISIS CAUSED IN PART BY THE BLOCKADE ALSO MEANS TRUCKS DON’T RUN CONSISTENTLY. “THE PROBLEM IS THAT SOMETIMES WE DON’T HAVE FUEL,” MOHAMED ALI SALEH TELLS ME. “SOMETIMES I HAVE TO STOP DRIVING THE TRUCK FOR THREE OR FOUR DAYS. EVEN DURING THE FIGHTING, IT WASN’T THIS BAD.”>>I CAN SHOW YOU THE FOOD BASKET THAT IS PROVIDED.>>Reporter: THE FINAL DESTINATION IS A DISTRIBUTION SITE LIKE THIS ONE JUST OUTSIDE OF ADEN, WHERE PEOPLE WAIT IN LINE ALL DAY TO RECEIVE MONTHLY RATIONS. ASHWAQ SAIF SAYS SHE WALKED TWO HOURS WITH PAINFUL KIDNEY STONES TO GET HERE TO BRING FOOD HOME FOR HER FIVE CHILDREN.>>(translated): MY HUSBAND IS A DAY LABORER IN CONSTRUCTION, AND WE CAN BARELY AFFORD TO HAVE FOOD FOR BOTH LUNCH AND DINNER. IF WE WAITED FOR HIM TO FINISH WORK TO PICK UP THE FOOD, WE WOULDN’T EAT TODAY. THE FOOD WE ARE RECEIVING IS NOT ENOUGH. ONCE WE RUN OUT, WE HAVE TO BUY LITTLE PORTIONS WITH SMALL BILLS TO GET THROUGH THE MONTH. I HAD TO BORROW 500 RIYAL TO HIRE A MOTORCYCLE TO CARRY THE FOOD HOME FOR ME.>>Reporter: SHE TIED THESE TWO COINS TO HER SCARF SO AS NOT TO LOSE THEM. SHE SAYS IT’S ALL SHE HAS.>>(translated): WE ARE VERY POOR. IF ONE OF THE KIDS GETS SICK, WE CAN’T AFFORD TO TAKE HIM TO THE HOSPITAL.>>THIS IS A SAMPLE OF THE FOOD BASKET THAT WE ARE PROVIDING TO THE HOUSEHOLDS IN THIS AREA.>>Reporter: TOUMNA OBAID IS WITH FIELD MEDICAL FOUNDATION, A LOCAL ORGANIZATION FUNDED BY W.F.P. SO, SUGAR, LENTILS, WHEAT AND OIL.>>SO, THE MOST ESSENTIAL COMMODITIES TO SURVIVE.>>Reporter: NO FRUIT OR VEGETABLES.>>NO, UNFORTUNATELY. UNFORTUNATELY. THIS IS WHAT WE CAN PROVIDE THEM FOR NOW. I MEAN, WE ARE TRYING TO SAVE LIVES. MORE INTERNALLY DISPLACED PEOPLE ARE COMING BECAUSE OF THE CONFLICT ON THE BORDERLINE. AND THEY ARE COMING AND ASKING FOR FOOD ASSISTANCE. UNFORTUNATELY, OUR RESOURCES IS LIMITED. SO, WE ONLY CAN PROVIDE A LIMITED NUMBER. WE CANNOT KEEP UP.>>Reporter: AND NOT EVERYONE CAN MAKE IT TO ONE OF THESE SITES. WE JOINED DOCTORS SUPPORTED BY SAVE THE CHILDREN IN LAHJ PROVINCE, NORTH OF ADEN, WHERE THEY WENT TO CHECK ON BABY ABDULLAH, WHO’S BEEN MALNOURISHED FOR MOST OF HIS SHORT LIFE. HIS MOTHER KHATIMA AND FATHER ABDO AHMED SAY THEY’RE POOR. THEY CAN’T AFFORD FOOD AND MEDICATIONS. ABDULLAH’S CHUBBY CHEEKS MASK STUNTED GROWTH IN HIS ARMS AND LEGS, AND HE’S BATTLING A CHEST INFECTION. SO, HE HAS GAINED A POUND IN THE LAST FOUR WEEKS, BUT HE’S STILL TINY. THIS CHILD IS SEVEN MONTHS OLD. WHILE ANY IMPROVEMENT IS WELCOME, DOCTORS ARE STILL CONCERNED ABOUT HIS OVERALL HEALTH. HE’S GOT A BAD COUGH, AND HE STILL LOOKS MALNOURISHED. THEY MEASURE HIS ARMS TO CHECK HIS STATUS. SEVERE ACUTE MALNUTRITION. SEVERE ACUTE MALNUTRITION. A CONCEPT SO COMMONPLACE IN YEMEN THAT IT’S KNOWN BY ITS ACRONYM: SAM. AND BACK IN ADEN, WE THOUGHT WE MIGHT BE WITNESSING LITTLE MALIKA’S FINAL HOURS. ARE YOU WORRIED THIS BABY ISN’T GOING TO MAKE IT?>>HER CHANCE TO SURVIVE IS VERY LOW. IT’S A PAINFUL SITUATION. WE HAVE BEEN PASSING THROUGH THIS PAINFUL SITUATION SINCE YEARS. WE ARE LOSING LIVES.>>Reporter: 12 DAYS AFTER WE LEFT THE HOSPITAL, WE LEARNED THAT MALIKA DEFIED THE ODDS AND WAS STABILIZED ENOUGH TO GO BACK TO THE CAMP. BUT DOCTORS TELL ME SHE’S ALMOST CERTAIN NOT TO GET ENOUGH FOOD THERE TO SURVIVE.

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