LONDON: The director of UK-based charity Muslim Hands’ Yemen operation has called the situation in the country “the worst humanitarian crisis in the past 100 years.”
Abdul Rahman Hussein told Arab News that money is needed urgently to stave off hunger, with Yemen facing famine and 80 percent of the population of over 30 million in need of humanitarian aid.
He also highlighted the complete breakdown of the country’s healthcare and education systems, at a time when aid from the UK government is set to be dramatically slashed.
“The aid … wasn’t enough then, and current cuts will make the situation even worse,” he said. “Food security and healthcare will be hit the hardest, and the majority of Yemenis are dependent on NGOs and aid.”
Hussein’s comments come as Muslims embark on the holy month of Ramadan, traditionally a time when many decide to donate zakat to charitable causes, and the period of the year when Muslim charities receive a significant portion of their annual income.
Last year, Muslim Hands raised almost a third of its annual income during Ramadan. Fellow charity Islamic Relief told The Guardian that it received 40 percent of all its funding at the same time.
The period, characterized by daily fasting and prayer, will this year prove difficult for many in Yemen.
Food prices “are extremely high this Ramadan, which will mean that a lot of families won’t be able to put food on their table,” Hussein said.
“Before the war, the Yemeni riyal was 214 to the dollar. Now it’s close to 1,000 to the dollar.”
Muslim Hands told The Guardian that it is hoping to raise as much as £6 million ($8.27 million) to spend in Yemen, where it runs large bakeries and has a food parcel program for families in need, distributing enough staples such as flour, oil and rice to last each one a month.
“We try to cover as much as we can. Our main projects are the bread factories — two in Aden and one in Marib,” Hussein said.
“We targeted this area because it has the highest numbers of internally displaced people (IDPs), who are mostly women, children and disabled,” he added.
“Collectively, through our bread factories, we support 28,000 beneficiaries every day, and 56,000 loaves of bread are distributed each day. We have a waiting list of beneficiaries that’s exhaustive because the need is so great.”
Islamic Relief told The Guardian that despite cuts to UK aid spending, it has seen donations for its projects in Yemen increase from the general public.
Muhammad Zulqarnain Abbas, Yemen director for Islamic Relief, said the charity is supporting up to 2.3 million people every month, but many people still lack enough food for sahoor or iftar, forcing them to just drink water.
“People are compelled to break their fast in the evening with simple water, and that water is even not clean,” he said.
Hussein said: “In Aden, which is the temporary capital with a population of 1.7 million, families only receive water every three days, and there’s a time constraint. If you miss that window, you have to wait another three days.”
Muslim Hands, he added, is looking to help install a new water system in Aden. “The old water system is over 50 years old, and the population (before the war) was less than 300,000. With an unchanged water system and a growing population, the demand for new systems and investment is even greater than before,” he said.
“Yemen was a poor country prior to the war, and the war has created an even more devastating landscape.”
Hussein added that getting food to children during Ramadan is an even more pressing concern.
According to UNICEF, as many as 2.3 million Yemeni children are at risk of malnutrition this year.
“Our school feeding program has made a huge difference in Taiz city and covers 4,000 students — we provide them with breakfast every morning,” he said.
“For most of these children this will be their only meal, and we have such a huge waiting list because parents want their children to attend this school because they know they’ll be fed,” he added.
“When we visited the school, the headteacher told us that five children will faint every morning because of lack of food — many of these children wouldn’t have eaten for at least a full day. Thirty-five percent are orphans at this school, (and) 43 percent are IDPs.”