Bombs instead of food: Conflict has driven Yemen to the brink of famine

Conflict has driven Yemen to the brink of famine. Few areas have been hit harder than al-Hudaydah, where many people are now bereft of hope.


Broom-maker Taie al-Nahari is kneeling on the sand, shirtless, outside his thatched hut in al-Qaza village in Yemen’s al-Hudaydah governorate. His bones show through his skin.

Before the conflict began in 2015, the 53-year-old was a fisherman. Now he makes two brooms a day, which earns him a daily income of $1. “The boats that we were working on were bombed [by Saudi jets]. Now my family and I don’t have enough to eat,” he says.

The conflict is the primary driver of a hunger crisis that the UN has warned could turn to famine this year if nothing is done.

On Wednesday, the UN launched a $2.1bn (£1.6bn) appeal to prevent famine in the Arab world’s poorest nation, where nearly 3.3 million people – including 2.1 million children – are acutely malnourished.

The humanitarian appeal is the largest launched for Yemen and aims to provide life-saving assistance to 12 million people this year.

Jamie McGoldrick, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Yemen, said: “The situation in Yemen is catastrophic and rapidly deteriorating”. At least 10,000 people have lost their lives in the conflict. 

Al-Nahari lives in the area of Yemen worst hit by the crisis. He says even those fishermen whose boats have remained intact do not dare to sail for fear of being bombed by the Saudi jets that frequently bomb targets within the country.

The attacks are to counter the advances of the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who control the capital, Sana’a, and have spread out across Yemen. “The war killed our only income, which was [me] working as a fisherman, and now we are jobless and hopeless,” he says. 

Al-Nahari did not earn much as a fisherman, but it was enough to buy flour and some basic food. “We are broken, we don’t have enough money, no food, nothing to eat, nothing to work with,” he says.

Fatima takes care of her two grandsons in al-Hudaydah’s al-Mujelis village. Ali is 11 and Mohammed four. They both suffer from thalassemia and their condition has been exacerbated by the lack of rich food.

“We have no money to treat my grandsons or to feed ourselves. Since we lost our jobs, we have no income and we have nothing to eat,” she says.

The children’s family used to worked in a Mango farm before the bombings. “These days, we sell brooms and buy ourselves some flour and then eat it with water,” she says. “Either we die from the bombing or from the hunger. My grandson needs treatment and also on the top of all that he needs to eat a healthy food, my grandson doesn’t know what the milk tastes like.”

She says the world was turning a blind eye to the Saudi bombings, which have prompted criticism of the UK, which exports weapons to Saudi Arabia. “I also blame the whole world for watching us dying and for their silence against [the] Saudi-led coalition,” she says.

Ashwaq Ahmad Moharram, an obstetrician and gynaecologist volunteering in al-Hudaydah, says the humanitarian situation there is believed to be the worst among Yemen’s 22 governorates.

“The situation in al-Hudaydah was bad before and now it has become even worse; if they were poor before, now they are poorer,” she says. 

“When I visit homes here, I have not found even the simplest daily life supports: there is no daily food, most of people eat only fish and sell what is left, but now after fishing boats are targeted by Saudi-led coalition, they have nothing left to make income from.”

Saeeda, a 60-year-old woman living in al-Hajb village in the al-Almansoriah district of al-Hudaydah, is disabled. In the past, she was financially supported by her only son, who worked in a Mango farm.

“When the war started, he lost his job; my grandson looks for what is left from [our] neighbour’s food. Saudi jets scare me all the time and when I hear their sound in the air, I cannot even run away from my thatched hut [because] I’m disabled,” she says.

“Before the war, we were eating breakfast and lunch, we had $3 a day, the situation was safe, but now we don’t have anything, my son is jobless, our life was difficult but now it’s more difficult than it was, sometimes I wish I was not born in this life.”

She adds: “Farms have been bombed, fishing boats too and diseases have become widespread; fever kills a lot of children.”

Ghaleb Mashn’s 11-month-old son Radad is malnourished and has abdominal swelling. The family lives in al-Hajb village. “My son has a congenital disorder, his condition gets worse when he is starved. I don’t have money to treat him. I went to al-Hudaydah for two days and I couldn’t stay longer to continue his treatment,” says Mashn, who makes brooms and hats and makes $2 a day. “My son needs to be treated, his weight was 3.5kg and after one week in a malnutrition centre it increased to 4.5kg.

“Everything has changed. Our life has become a hell. Saudi Arabia bombards us and kills our neighbours.”

Gummai Esmail Moshasha’s thatched hut in al-Jah, in the Tihama area of al-Hudaydah, was targeted on 12 January. Moshasha, 54, and one of his sons, Ali, 21, were outside waiting for the breakfast call when the bombings began at about 6am. Inside, however, were Ali’s 18-month son, Ahmad, his wife and his mother. They were instantly killed.

“They were preparing the breakfast at our thatched hat, it was a tea and some biscuits,” Ali says. “Suddenly the rocket hit our thatched hat, I ran to the home to see what happened, I was shocked to see my family members killed and cut into pieces, I hugged [what was] remaining of my wife’s body, I also hugged my mother and my son’s body, I was crying.

“My message to the world is, ‘Please stop the war’, but I think my message is useless, they won’t be able to bring back who I have lost.”