Devastated Yemen

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A man sleeps in front of shops in the old city of Sanaa June 6, 2012. (photo: Reuters - Mohamed al-Sayaghi)

By: Rami Zurayk

Published Sunday, June 10, 2012

Yemen is facing famine. It is very clear according to the figures published by the UN World Food Program (WFP).

These figures show that since 2009 Yemen has seen a doubling of the number of people suffering from food insecurity.

International media outlets have been reporting the horrific news of vast numbers of children suffering from severe hunger.

It is reported that 300,000 children’s lives are in danger because of hunger.

In the city of al-Hodeida alone, 30 percent of children suffer from hunger at rates which directly affect their physical and psychological development.

According to the Oxfam representative, this rate is double the number the UN usually adopts to declare a state of crisis.

So what is happening in Yemen? How did it transform in less than a century from one of the biggest producers of coffee in the world to a country suffering from famine and importing its food?

How can an Arab country which produces and exports oil suffer from famine?

It is the same story, from one country to the next and one continent to another.

Yemen had produced its own food alongside coffee since the fifteenth century.

With the development of export agriculture, coffee became the basis of Yemen’s economy.

However, when the colonialists arrived at the beginning of the twentieth century, the technology of coffee production was transferred to African and Latin American countries.

This led to competition which in turn led to the collapse of the coffee sector in Yemen within a few decades.

Slowly, Yemen lost its footing.

It witnessed revolutions, civil wars, and dictatorships from the days of the Imams until the present time.

The country went through a period of division, followed by unity and dictatorship under Ali Abdullah Saleh, not to mention the various uprisings and America’s war with al-Qaeda.

The agricultural sector was completely neglected during all these phases.

This provided investment opportunities for a handful of investors close to the regime and to food importers.

Groundwater was pumped gratuitously and water levels dropped.

Then, in the last few years, drought came to crown the disaster already begun by the ruling class and those who benefitted from them.

So today we find Yemen fighting to release its revolution from the claws of America and its Arab servants — its children calling out for help.

Are any Arabs going to answer their call?

Rami Zurayk is Al-Akhbar's environment columnist and author of the blog Land and People.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect Al-Akhbar's editorial policy.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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