Part 4 /4
a man-made crisis
A photo reportage from deep inside a country devastated by an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.
Images and text by Lorenzo Tugnoli
Lorenzo Tugnoli is an Italian photographer based in Beirut from the photo agency Constrato. He won the World Press Photo 2019 reportage award for his work on Yemen. He is one of the last photographers to visit the country between November and December 2018 in Houthi-controlled area. Disclose publishes its report in exclusivity for France
Rageed is a small bundle in his grandfathers’ arms. He bears the unmistakable signs of malnutrition. A swollen abdomen and sagging skin around his tiny arms.
His father is not at home; from the remote village of Al Abar he walked through the mountain to beg in the market of the nearby town to try and scrape some money to feed his children.
The family lives in a mud house on top of a small hill. Inside the hut, I squatted and took some images of Rageed’s grandmother as she fed him the last batch of powdered milk; after this there will be no food left for him.
Four-month-old Rageed Sagheer is not the only child in this condition; in every village and town of Hajjah province there are children like him.
The markets are full but prices more than doubled in the last few years and the poor farmers in the region, who survived with few dollars a week, plunged into famine.
Over two extensive reporting trips last year I encountered starving children in hospitals and refugee camps all across the country. This humanitarian crisis was not created by a natural disaster; it is a man-made famine that has been used by both warring parties as a tool of war.
The Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels have been at war for four years, now more than half of the population lives in conditions of near starvation.
A Saudi-led coalition of Arab states, in support of the Yemeni government, imposed restrictions on the import of food, medicine and fuel.
Saudi arabia and its allies wanted to weaken the rebels but it is the civilian population who felt the consequences more strongly. The blockade, the bombs and the devaluation of the currency ravaged the economy.
At a clinic in Aslam, rooms after rooms are filled with mothers, they hold on to their malnourished children, sometimes sharing a bed with another patient. Most of the mothers are themselves malnourished.
The clinic is a short drive away from Al Abar village but some children, like Rageed, will never make it here, the soaring price of fuel and transportation made it too much of a burden for his family.
they come from remote regions of the Hajjah province. Bordering with Saudi Arabia, Hajjah is one of the most affected areas by malnutrition, also because of the ongoing combat. The poverty is so deep that often families have to decide which child to feed and usually girls and disabled children are left behind.
In Yemen, 85,000 children under the age of five may have died of malnutrition since 2015, according to Save the children. They often live in remote parts of the country that the conflict made challenging to reach for the Humanitarian agencies.
Some children have been treated in the clinic more than once. Their conditions improve while they are fed high-energy milk and supplements but then their health quickly deteriorates again as soon as they go back to the provinces.
I spent several days photographing the work in the clinic. Every day new children arrived, but only the ones in life-threatening medical conditions could be admitted for lack of space.
They are weighed and measured and then assigned an empty bed with their mothers. They would spend a few months in the clinic before they could be discharged, but some of these children will not make it.
Throughout Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition has carried out air raids using weapons supplied by the US and other countries. Infrastructure such as roads, factories and power stations have been targeted and as a consequence, the production and distribution of goods in a country already strongly dependent on food import became extremely expensive.
Most of the fighting is centered on the city of Hodeidah, especially after the coalition launched an offensive to retake the city from rebel control. Hodeidah’s port is the main point of entry for food imports and humanitarian aid into the Houthi-controlled northern part of the country, where most of the population of Yemen lives.
Taking this important city on the western coast could have changed the course of the war for the coalition. Instead it amplified an already shattering humanitarian crisis and choked the import of humanitarian aid. A stock of wheat from the World Food Programme that could have fed almost four million people remained stuck for months because of the combats, and operations in the port came to an almost complete stop.
When I am finally allowed to visit the port in Hodeidah I find it empty. Some day laborers are sitting along the deserted docks, a single ship moored in the bay. In the distance I can see the cranes destroyed by Saudi airstrikes and the charred remains of silos and warehouses.
At the same time, thousands of miles away, in Sweden, the warring parties are sitting in front of each other to decide the fate of the city.
Dusk is falling over the quiet waters and silence descend over the place. I doubt the negotiations would bring any lasting peace; other deals have been done and broken, and the abandonment of the once thriving port did not inspire much hope in the future.