YEMEN: A cookbook of the hungry

Families are finding it increasingly hard to cope as food prices rise/Photo: Norman Yanuar/Flickr
Altaf Abdullah al-Mahdi, 40, has found it increasingly difficult to feed her family in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, since she and her 19-year-old daughter, Baghdad, lost their jobs as cleaners in a plastic factory, which closed in May amid growing political unrest in the country.

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The family live in a two-room house in a Sana’a slum, which they inherited from their father, a casual construction worker who died in a scaffold collapse last year. Al-Mahdi and four of her six children are dependent on the two oldest boys, Jamal, 13, and Yasser, 11, who together make some YR1,400 (US$5.53) a day working in a car maintenance shop.

Both look stunted with thin arms and sunken cheeks, and appeared underweight. “They work more but eat less,” their mother said. “Both started to have anaemia. I am worried about the future of their health. Who else will support us if something bad happens to them?”

The family spends more than 85 percent of its income on food. Al-Mahdi adds water to the beans or yoghurt so that they go further. She and her oldest daughter skip dinner or eat less to leave more food for the children, she told IRIN.

Yemen’s fragile economy has nosedived since February, when protests – which have degenerated into pitched battles on the streets of major cities between an armed opposition and a divided military – began calling for the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, one third of the population was chronically undernourished before the political crisis. Close to 40 percent of Yemenis were unemployed, and with only a small fraction of its cereal needs locally grown, the country is extremely vulnerable to rising global food prices.

One kilogram of bread in Sana’a now costs YR250 ($1.10), compared to YR170 in January.

The last time the Al-Mahdi household ate meat was more than two weeks ago when a neighbour brought them half a chicken. It has been almost one month since they have tasted fruit.

Here is what the family of seven eats on a typical day.

Breakfast: 410 grams of beans (42 US cents); 1kg of bread ($1.10) = 3,110 calories

Lunch: 500 grams of rice (94 cents); 150g of yoghurt (63 cents); 1kg of bread = 2,399 calories

Dinner: 1kg of bread; tea = 2660 calories

The total calorie intake per person per day works out at roughly 1,167 calories. However, the recommended calorie intake per person per day is 1,940 calories for women and 2,550 calories for men. For the average child, the recommended daily calorie intake ranges between 1,715 and 1,970 for boys, and 1,545 and 1,740 for girls.



Theme (s): Children, Economy, Food Security, Governance, Health & Nutrition, Human Rights,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]