Foreign Policy Blogs

Tale of Yemen


Despite its oil and gas resources and its vast agricultural lands, Yemen is the poorest country by far of the Arabic Peninsula with the majority of its population leaving under US$2 per day.
For several years now  UNICEF and other humanitarian agencies have been working in Yemen towards finding a solution to solve malnourishment in children and to alleviate debilitating poverty.
In the midst of a popular uprising which was triggered by the fall in Tunisia of Dictator Ben Ali, Yemen has been riding the wave of the “Arab Spring” for almost 10 months.
However, with the popular uprising came misery for many as with the disintegration of the state institutions came an economic, financial, industrial and employment crisis of such a magnitude that non-governmental agencies have raised the alarm, warning of a coming famine in Yemen.
And if thousands of families have been displaced by armed conflicts in Abyan, a southern province of Yemen where al-Qaeda militants have been battling the government since May and Arhab, following a intense shelling campaign against tribes loyal to the revolution, no story reflects the misery that is Yemen’s daily lot than the story of little Sumayya. Beautiful blue-eyed Sumayya has faced more hardship in her short years that many of us could bear. Her tale is that of thousands, her tale is that of Yemen.


Sumayya lives with her 6 brothers and sisters in a modest neighborhood of the capital, Sana’a, where opulent villas are mixing up run-down hovels. Since as far as she can remember, Sumayya’s dad has been out of job, not being able to feed his growing family. After years of continuous struggle and the fear of tomorrow, her father is now too depressed and detached to even pay attention to her and her siblings, too exhausted to even care where the next meal will come from.
Her mother, still in her twenties, is doing want she can to keep the household afloat, forced to ask her daughters to ask neighbors for left-over food and whatever they are willing to spare to make do. Little Sumayya and her sister, Asma’ are well-known figures in the neighborhood; well raised and polite little girls, always smiling, always grateful to strangers’ kindness. “It’s heartbreaking to see those little girls, knowing their situation”, said Nasser Maweri a neighbor.

Only a few days ago, Sumayya came banging on the doors of her neighbor screaming that her mother was dying of child birth. She was begging for someone to take her mother to a hospital. Unfortunately at the time no one was able to help and Sumayya had to go back home. An hour or so later, as the neighbor came to check up on her she announced, her face beaming, that she had helped her mother gave birth to her baby.
“I did everything she told me to do, all by myself, just me and mum. Now she’s ok, I thought she was dead when I saw her lying in pain on the floor, but now she’s good,” said brave little 8 year-old Sumayya. But the joyful arrival of little Jasmeen in this already destitute family will bring further worries, as Sumayya’s mother has now to worry about feeding yet another mouth every day.

Sadly, it is the poorest segment of the Yemeni population that suffers the most as they are either unaware of birth control methods or too poor to afford the medication. Add to that a chronic employment problem and a poor education system and Yemeni children’s future is being swept away from under their feet before they even learn how to talk and walk.
An entire generation is being ignored, brushed aside by the rich and privileged as if the sight of poverty was an insult to their senses. But Sumayya too deserves a chance of a better life, Yemen owes this child support and protection for this country’s future will be written by her hands.
(for more info on this story please contact @NasserMaweri on twitter)



Catherine Shakdam
Catherine Shakdam

Although French by birth, my studies and my professional life led me to live for many years in the United Kingdom and in the Middle East.
Armed with a Master in Finance, a Bachelor degree in Psychology and 5 languages under my belt I managed to make my way through the maze of the Trading World of Wall Street, as an equity consultant. However, my interest for Politics and the Middle East gave me the necessary push to launch me as a "writer". Since then, I have voiced my opinions via my Blog and various publications such as the Middle East Post, the Guardian UK, and now Foreign Policy Association. I currently live in London.