UN rushes aid to hunger-stricken Yemeni district

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The UN’s World Food Program sent trucks carrying 10,000 food packages to Aslam district, each meant to feed one family for a month. (AP)
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Men unload UN World Food Program aid in Aslam, where starving villagers were found to be living off leaves. (AP)
Updated 25 September 2018
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UN rushes aid to hunger-stricken Yemeni district

  • The aid push was directed at a district called Aslam where earlier this month some families were found eating leaves to survive
  • Getting relief to those in need has been complicated because international agencies are required to work from lists that are often compiled by local Houthi authorities

CAIRO: The UN and individual donors are rushing food to a desperate corner of northern Yemen where starving villagers were found to be living off leaves. Aid officials are searching for ways to ensure aid reaches those in need amid alarm that the country’s hunger crisis is worsening beyond the relief effort’s already strained capabilities.
The aid push was directed at a district called Aslam where earlier this month The Associated Press found some families eating leaves. But in a sign of the difficulties in tracking Yemen’s near-famine, conditions appeared to be as bad or worse in a neighboring district, Khayran Al-Maharraq.
On a recent day, Shouib Sakaf buried his 3-year-old daughter, Zaifa, the fifth child known to have died in the district this year from malnutrition-related illness. Sakaf prayed over a grave marked by piles of stones and tangled, dry branches from the surrounding mountain shrubs.
Zaifa was as old as Yemen’s civil war, waged between rebels known as Houthis and a coalition led by Saudi Arabia. Born in the war’s early days, Zaifa succumbed to the humanitarian crisis it has caused — widespread hunger, the collapse of the economy and the breakdown of the health system. In her final weeks, she wasted away, her ribs protruding, her face and feet swollen. At a local medical facility which did not have enough supplies, her father was told she had to be taken to a hospital further away to treat kidney complications. He had no way to pay for transportation there.
“Death came at 2:30 p.m.,” Sakaf said with a deep sigh. “Then we left.”
UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock issued a dire warning to the Security Council on Friday, ahead of the world body’s General Assembly, saying, “We are losing the fight against famine” in Yemen.
“We may now be approaching a tipping point, beyond which it will be impossible to prevent massive loss of life as a result of widespread famine across the country,” he said. “We are already seeing pockets of famine-like conditions, including cases where people are eating leaves.”
Across Yemen, around 2.9 million women and children are acutely malnourished; another 400,000 children are fighting for their lives, in the same condition as Zaifa was. This year, the UN and humanitarian groups provided assistance to more than 8 million of the most vulnerable Yemenis who don’t know when their next meal will come. That is a dramatic expansion from 2017, when food was reaching 3 million people a month in the country of nearly 29 million.
Lowcock spoke after the AP alerted UN relief officials to the villagers in Aslam district, an isolated area in Hajjah province.
After the AP report, activists launched an online campaign called: “Rescue Aslam” with bank account details to collect donations. Some 30 food baskets financed by individual donors were distributed over the past days.
The UN’s World Food Program carried out an investigation in Aslam and found that aid hasn’t been reaching all targeted beneficiaries. It has since sent trucks carrying 10,000 food packages to the district, each meant to feed one family for a month. Distribution of the aid is still pending the finalization of registration lists.
Getting relief to those in need has been complicated because international agencies are required to work from lists that are often compiled by local Houthi authorities. Critics accuse those authorities of favoritism in putting together the lists.
Stephen Anderson, the director of the WFP, said there is a “retargeting exercise” underway to make sure that “the poorest and hungriest and most marginalized people, wherever they are, are targeted first.”
The agency is introducing a biometric registration to establish a database of beneficiaries, including their finger prints to avoid forgery and duplications.
Anderson said the system “will help give us an assurance” that situations like those in Hajjah are prevented or at least minimized.
A senior relief official said local authorities have resisted implementing biometric registration and the main Houthi-run aid body, known by the acronym NAMCHA, has sought to do registration and control the database. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of fears of problems with authorities.
The conflict in Yemen began with the 2014 takeover of the capital, Sanaa, by the Houthis, an Iranian-backed Shiite movement that toppled the internationally recognized government.
The conflict has left more than 10,000 civilians dead, driven millions from their homes and sparked a cholera epidemic.


Canada to resettle group of Syrian White Helmets

Updated 20 October 2018
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Canada to resettle group of Syrian White Helmets

  • Canada has supported the work of the White Helmets by helping them to expand, train more volunteers, train more women and save more lives
  • Jordan said a group of 279 Syrian rescue workers has left the kingdom for resettlement in Western countries

OTTAWA: Canada is preparing to welcome a group of Syrian White Helmets rescuers, officials said on Friday, without specifying when they will be resettled.
“Together with a core group of international allies, Canada is working to resettle a group of White Helmets and their families after they had to flee Syria as a result of being specifically targeted by the Syrian regime and its backer, Russia,” Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, said in a joint statement.
“As first responders, the White Helmets have witnessed first-hand some of the most appalling crimes committed by the murderous Assad regime. Canada has supported the work of the White Helmets by helping them to expand, train more volunteers, train more women and save more lives,” they said, referring to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
In July, following the evacuation of 400 White Helmets from Syria to Israel and then to Jordan, Canada announced that it was ready to accommodate 50 of them and their families, for a potential total of 250 people.
Jordan said Wednesday a group of 279 Syrian rescue workers has left the kingdom for resettlement in Western countries.
Founded in 2013, the Syrian Civil Defense, or White Helmets, is a network of first responders who rescue wounded in the aftermath of air strikes, shelling or blasts in rebel-held territory.