War forces Yemenis to eat plant leaves as famine risk grows

By Jaled Abdala

Sana’a, Feb 19 (efe-epa).- On a hillside near their village in the east of the Yemeni capital Sanaa, women collect leaves from a creeper to feed their starving families.

People in the Bani al-Qallam village, some 100 km from Sanaa, have been mainly consuming leaves of local vines like ghulaf or Cyphostemma digitatum to escape starvation deaths by six years of war.

With around 2,500 inhabitants, Bani al-Qallam is one of the most neglected villages in the war-ravaged West Asian country.

People in the village of the tribal community have lost cattle and crops in the war that has raged in Yemen since 2015 between the Iran-aligned Houthis rebels and the internationally recognized government of the exiled President Abdu-Rabbeh Mansour Hadi.

In recent years, the food crisis has pushed the people, mostly children, toward malnutrition and the country towards one of the worst famines in recent times.

The suffering of Bani al-Qallam is a living example of how the war has exacted a terrible and massive human cost.

Local charity Mona Relief claims that it has been the first aid agency to reach the village with food baskets containing sacks of wheat flour, sugar, cooking oil, lentils, rice, and milk powder.

“I could imagine people eating leaves in far off areas of Yemen, but never thought it happening so close to the capital city,” Fatik al-Rudaini, who heads Mona Relief, told EFE after a trip to the village.

He said people in the village were “in dire need” of food and nutrition.

“This is one outcome of the war.”

Nasser Ahmad al-Qallam, 60, is one of the livestock farmers in the village who has seen better days but is now struggling to make ends meet.

“Only God knows we have nothing. (We eat) only in the mornings and evenings,” said al-Qallam, who has 15 people to feed in the family.

“We were better off. Our livestock starved to death, and now the situation is even more difficult,” he said.

“No organization has reached us with food support.”

His cousin Hussein Ahmad, 45, joined him as they ate boiled tree leaves outside an old house of stone blocks.

“Since our salaries were cut, we have not been able to buy corn or wheat,” said Hussein, a former soldier who looks after eight daughters and two sons.

He lost his job and the only source of income when the war broke out six years ago.

“We have turned to this plant to eat its leaves,” he said, adding ghulaf was not just something they fill their stomachs with, but it had become their staple diet.

United Nations-sponsored aid agencies have warned of malnutrition among children and adults in rural areas of Yemen, as famine risks loom large.

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