New famine fears loom in war-rav­aged Ye­men

Ema­ci­ated chil­dren cling to life in hospi­tal wards

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE - Im­porters strug­gling Dwin­dling re­serves

DUBAI: In­ten­sive care wards in Ye­men’s hospi­tals are filled with ema­ci­ated chil­dren hooked up to mon­i­tors and drips - vic­tims of food short­ages that could get even worse due to a re­or­ga­ni­za­tion of the cen­tral bank that is wor­ry­ing im­porters. With food ships find­ing it hard to get into Ye­men’s ports due to a vir­tual block­ade by the Saudi-led coali­tion that has backed the govern­ment dur­ing an 18-month civil war, over half the coun­try’s 28 mil­lion peo­ple al­ready do not have enough to eat, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions.

Ye­men’s ex­iled pres­i­dent, Abd Rab­buh Mansur Hadi, last month or­dered the cen­tral bank’s head­quar­ters to be moved from the cap­i­tal Sanaa, con­trolled by Houthi rebels in the north, to the south­ern port of Aden, which is held by the govern­ment. He also ap­pointed a new gov­er­nor, a mem­ber of his govern­ment who has said the bank has no money. Trade sources in­volved in im­port­ing food to the Arab penin­sula’s poor­est coun­try say this de­ci­sion will leave them fi­nan­cially ex­posed and make it harder to bring in sup­plies. Diplo­mats and aid of­fi­cials be­lieve the cri­sis sur­round­ing the cen­tral bank could ad­versely af­fect or­di­nary Ye­me­nis.

“The politi­ciza­tion of the cen­tral bank and at­tempts by the par­ties in the con­flict to use it as a tool to hurt one an­other ... threaten to push the poor­est over the edge,” said Richard Stan­forth, hu­man­i­tar­ian pol­icy ad­viser with Ox­fam. “Ev­ery­thing is stacked against the peo­ple on the brink of star­va­tion in Ye­men.” The ef­fects of food short­ages can al­ready be seen. At the chil­dren’s emer­gency unit at the Thawra hospi­tal in the port of Ho­daida, tiny pa­tients with skin sag­ging over their bones writhe in beds. Hall­ways and wait­ing rooms are crowded with par­ents seek­ing help for their hun­gry and dy­ing chil­dren.

Salem Issa, 6, rests his stick-thin limbs on a hospi­tal bed as his mother watches over him. “I have a sick child, I used to feed him bis­cuits, but he’s sick, he won’t eat,” she said. A nurse said the ward be­gan tak­ing in around 10 to 20 cases in April, but now strug­gles with 120 pa­tients per month. The World Food Pro­gram says half Ye­men’s chil­dren un­der five are stunted, mean­ing they are too short for their age be­cause of chronic mal­nu­tri­tion.

In July, Reuters re­ported that im­porters were al­ready strug­gling to buy food from abroad be­cause $260 mil­lion worth of their funds were frozen in Ye­meni banks, while West­ern banks had cut credit lines. Since then, im­porters have guar­an­teed much of the risk of fi­nanc­ing ship­ments them­selves. The de­ci­sion to move the cen­tral bank, seen as the last im­par­tial bas­tion of the coun­try’s fi­nan­cial sys­tem which has helped keep the econ­omy afloat in wartime, is viewed as a ma­jor blow for sup­pli­ers who are mis­trust­ful of the de­ci­sion and ex­pect even more chaos ahead. For­eign ex­change is al­ready scarce and the sources do not have con­fi­dence in the new gov­er­nor.

All of this will lead to fur­ther food dis­rup­tions and more hard­ship for Ye­me­nis al­ready fac­ing im­pend­ing famine, ac­cord­ing to the trade sources. “We have be­gun to can­cel our for­ward con­tracts - it’s just im­pos­si­ble to trade when there is no fi­nan­cial sys­tem in place. There is no cov­er­age from the cen­tral bank where we can trust them or know them,” said one source. “This leaves any­one bring­ing in car­goes com­pletely ex­posed,” added the source, who de­clined to be iden­ti­fied due to the wors­en­ing se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion and fear of reprisals.

Ship­ping data showed at least nine ves­sels car­ry­ing sup­plies such as wheat and sugar were on the way to the Ye­meni ports of Ho­daida and Salif, but the source said there were wor­ries for for­ward ship­ments for late Oc­to­ber and Novem­ber. A sec­ond trade source also ac­tive in Ye­men con­firmed the grow­ing dif­fi­cul­ties. “West­ern banks are not will­ing to process pay­ments and the whole sys­tem is freez­ing up. It is an ever grow­ing strug­gle to do any­thing com­mer­cial,” the sec­ond source said. “Ob­tain­ing for­eign ex­change has to be done through cur­rency smug­gling. Ye­men is like a coun­try of smug­glers now - this is un­ac­cept­able.”

The old cen­tral bank in the cap­i­tal Sanaa used Ye­men’s dwin­dling for­eign ex­change re­serves to guar­an­tee ship­ments into a coun­try which im­ports 90 per­cent of its food. But Hadi dis­liked the bank pay­ing salaries to his foes in the army and the Iran-aligned Houthi move­ment op­posed to his in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized govern­ment. Strug­gling to ad­vance on the bat­tle­field and keen to un­der­mine the Houthis, Hadi dis­missed the bank’s gov­er­nor, Mo­hamed Bin Hu­mam, named Fi­nance Min­is­ter Monasser Al Quaiti in his place and de­creed the bank be moved to Aden. It was a sud­den de­ci­sion that aroused sus­pi­cion among traders. “The gov­er­nor Hu­mam en­joyed the con­fi­dence of all par­ties since he was clearly independent and work­ing in the best in­ter­ests of Ye­men. To now ap­point a min­is­ter of fi­nance of the govern­ment is a ret­ro­grade step and none of the traders have any con­fi­dence in him or in the bank in Aden,” the first trade source said.

The new gov­er­nor of the cen­tral bank did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to a Reuters re­quest for com­ment. Quaiti told the Saudi-owned Asharq Al-Awsat news­pa­per on Thurs­day he had in­her­ited a bank with no money, but he pledged to keep it independent. Ibrahim Mah­moud, of Ye­men’s So­cial Devel­op­ment Fund, said only an im­prove­ment in the coun­try’s fi­nan­cial sys­tem and an emer­gency aid ef­fort could stop the spread of hunger. “If there is no di­rect and im­me­di­ate in­ter­ven­tion on be­half of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity and state or­ga­ni­za­tions, we could be threat­ened by famine and a hu­man­i­tar­ian catas­tro­phe.”

Even though mov­ing the cen­tral bank seemed to be aimed at hurt­ing the Houthis, Ye­meni eco­nomic of­fi­cials and diplo­mats say the group has its own fi­nan­cial re­sources. Los­ing out on $100 mil­lion in salaries to its fight­ers as sug­gested by the new bank gov­er­nor may hurt the Houthis, but the bank’s clo­sure in Sanaa is likely to hurt or­di­nary peo­ple al­ready suf­fer­ing from a col­lapse in the econ­omy due to the war. “It risks leav­ing the salaries of more than a mil­lion Ye­me­nis un­paid. There may be a long-term ef­fect on the Houthis, but the im­me­di­ate ef­fect will be on nor­mal peo­ple try­ing to put food on the ta­ble,” Ye­meni eco­nomic an­a­lyst Amal Nasser said.


SANAA: Ye­meni fe­male pupils at­tend a class on the first day of classes at a public school in the cap­i­tal Sanaa.

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