People in Yemen are dying as a result of famine, corruption and international silence, contributing to calls for the war in the country to end, writes Hanan Al-Hakry
Most Yemenis today are suffering from intolerable conditions, and in some parts of the country they have been reduced to eating leaves. The poverty, famine and violence raging in the country have made many endure appalling conditions, with this country of 29 million people now on the brink of generalised famine.
At least eight million people have no food other than what the aid agencies provide. The figure is likely to rise to 11.5 million as more people become unable to afford food because of the worsening economic crisis caused by the war in the country, UN agencies warn. The Yemeni currency is crumbling in value, sending prices soaring.
Prices of staple commodities increase every day, with a cylinder of gas now costing 3,000 Yemeni riyals and 10 kg of rice 11,000 riyals. Water is scarce. When it is available, many Yemenis stand in long queues to receive a few litres. A kg of sugar sells for 14,000 riyals, and a kg of flour for 13,500 riyals. A dollar is now worth 780 riyals.
Most Yemenis now cannot eat three times a day, and what food they can find is not enough to avoid malnutrition. Those who do not want to beg for food suffer the most, with many people locking themselves in their houses and suffering in silence.
One woman told Al-Ahram Weekly that her neighbour had asked her to lend her some flour to cook for her children. “What did we do to deserve this,” she asked amid her tears.
Working conditions are no better, and private businesses enslave workers who are desperate for a job. Government employees do not receive their salaries. Relief organisations may reach some families, but by no means all.
Some of these organisations are also mired in corruption, donating only half of the supplies they receive. A worker at one of the aid organisations said a relief package comprised a bottle of cooking oil, two packs of flour, a handful of peas and two kg of sugar. One package is divided between two families and is given out every three months, he added.
Healthcare is non-existent in a country now suffering from famine and disease. The health of many Yemenis has deteriorated since the healthcare system, where it does exist, is corrupt. Doctors routinely prescribe larger doses of the wrong medicines to receive fatter bonuses from pharmaceutical companies.
The prices of medicines in Yemen are also exorbitant as pharmaceutical companies make use of the deteriorating conditions in the country to raise their prices. Smuggled and counterfeit medicines are sold for lower prices, but these often contain nothing but ineffective powder.
Such counterfeit medicines, now comprising half the pharmaceutical market in Yemen, are not monitored and are transported and stored in wrong conditions. They have a market because of the lack of vital medicines to treat chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, rheumatism and heart and liver illnesses.
People are caught between trying to buy original medicines the prices of which they cannot afford or buying smuggled or counterfeit medicines the origins of which are unknown despite the accompanying risks.
This is happening in a country where pharmaceutical companies are making use of the terrible conditions of many Yemenis, where doctors only care about the depth of their pockets, and where the government cannot protect its people from those making use of the deteriorating living conditions to profiteer.
Patients may resort to selling their property to travel abroad for treatment, but if so they also face unfathomable obstacles. They may be asked to pay bribes of $300 to be able to get on a plane or else they have to cancel their reservation. Corruption, preferential treatment and chaos are the order of the day at Yemen’s airports.
Many are asking what the prime minister and his 36 ministers are doing as the country descends into chaos. What is the role of the security bodies when smuggling is rife in the country? What is the role of international organisations in Yemen? What do they have to offer when, for example, Amal Hussein, a young Yemeni girl, died of famine and made the headlines in US newspapers?
If domestic conditions were better in Yemen, it would be easier to fix its international affairs. The Yemeni tragedy lies in the country’s rulers, even as hope continues among those whose consciences cannot allow this tragedy to continue.