Yemen’s displaced in dire need of food
Aid groups operating near besieged city of Taiz are not providing displaced people with what they say they need most.
Al-Turbah, Taiz – Ghamdan Yaseen’s family has been displaced by the war in Yemen. His wife and five children badly need food. So when Oxfam gave him four blankets and four mattresses last month, he was forced to sell them in the market.
“I can sleep without a blanket, I can bear the cold weather, but my family and I cannot live without food. So I was compelled to sell the blankets and the mattresses in al-Turbah market,” Yaseen told Al Jazeera.
Yaseen said the value of the blankets he received was 5,000 Yemeni rials ($23), and that of a mattress was 4,000 rials ($19). He managed to sell the blankets and mattresses for 2,000 rials ($9) apiece, yielding 16,000 rials ($74) in total.
“I told [Oxfam] that I need the blankets and I will not sell them. Then I sold them to get money. I am not a liar, but the economic situation forced me to do, so may Allah forgive me.”
Yaseen said he used the money to buy two 50-kilogram bags of wheat and a 50-kilogram bag of flour.
On Monday, The UN warned that residents of the city of Taiz in Yemen were facing imminent starvation. About 7.6 million people in Yemen are suffering from severe food shortage as a result of the war and are urgently in need of humanitarian assistance.
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The population of Taiz, Yemen’s second-biggest city, has dropped from 600,000 to roughly 200,000 as many flee the ongoing civil war, according to UN figures. The Houthi rebel group laid siege to Taiz in August 2015, and since then has largely cut off the flow of goods into and out of the city.
The city is a significant battleground in the nearly year-long conflict between the government of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and Houthi forces.
I can sleep without a blanket, I can bear the cold weather, but my family and I cannot live without food.
Many of those displaced from Taiz are now living in rural areas, especially al-Shimayateen district, where international aid organisations such as Save the Children and Oxfam have opened branches to help to alleviate the humanitarian situation.
The displaced people say they are in dire need of food, which aid organisations are reportedly struggling to provide.
Ghazi al-Husaini, a co-ordinator with Oxfam based in al-Turbah, told Al Jazeera that many displaced people need blankets and mattresses for the winter. He said he was aware that some displaced people sold the aid, which he considered to be a type of stealing.
Walid al-Taweel, 35, a displaced man who is staying at the Adeem School in al-Turbah, received a food basket from al-Hikma charity association that contained five boxes of tissues, utentils and dishes, 5kg of sugar and 5kg of rice.
“When I learned that al-Hikma association would provide the displaced people with food baskets, I was very glad that I would get enough food for one whole month, as my neighbours told me. I went more than five times to al-Hikma’s office in al-Turbah to get a basket, and finally I got it, but I was shocked to see its contents,” said al-Taweel. He was expecting to get wheat, flour, cooking oil and more rice.
He said he took the rice and sugar and sold the rest of the items to a shop owner for 2,500 Yemeni rials ($12).
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Ibrahim Hamid, an al-Hikma representative based in al-Turbah, told Al Jazeera that the association was working hard to provide displaced people with basic commodities, and was collecting the goods from traders and donations.
“When the traders give us spoons, knives, tissues or dishes, we try to give them to the displaced people who are in need of them, as we do not buy them from the market … In addition, we also provide the displaced and poor people with rice and sugar,” Hamid told Al Jazeera.
Despite the shortcomings of aid delivery in al-Turbah, the humanitarian situation is far worse in the city of Taiz, where the Houthi siege largely prevents medical supplies and other necessities from entering the city.
On January 16, after five months of intense negotiations with officials, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) was able to “get a delivery of two trucks full of essential medical supplies into the besieged area of the city of Taiz”, according to the MSF website.
Abdul Kareem Shamsan, the head of the Humanitarian Relief Coalition in Taiz, which consists of 200 local organisations, confirmed that city hospitals received medicine, as well as other supplies including chest tubes, anaesthetic drugs, fluid and sutures, from MSF last month.
“But we also need oxygen cylinders. Dozens of people have been killed because of the lack of oxygen,” Shamsan told Al Jazeera. He added that international aid organisations were unable to operate in the besieged areas of Taiz.
“Aid workers can come to the besieged areas in Taiz city, and there was a visit to some international aid workers to Taiz city in January, but they cannot get delivery of humanitarian aid to the residents of Taiz as the Houthis control the entries of Taiz city and they will not allow them,” explained Shamsan.
Instead, Taiz’s residents depend on smugglers to provide residents with food, water, fuel and medical supplies.