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Yemen Crisis: Humanitarians Need 'Unconditional Access' To Reach The Food-Insecure


The civil war in Yemen has killed more than 10,000 people and left most of the population in need of humanitarian assistance. The United Nations says the country is, quote, "one step away from famine." Muhannad Hadi is the Middle East regional director for the World Food Program, and he recently returned from Yemen and joins us in our studios. Thanks so much for being with us.

MUHANNAD HADI: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: What did you see? What did you discover?

HADI: What I saw was heartbreaking. Even the second I started landing in Sana'a Airport, I was looking around in the faces of the people and I saw agony on their face. They were so puzzled by just seeing another U.N. convoy pass by, wondering if this U.N. convoy, if this mission bringing hope to them, an end to this war or just another U.N. mission going there for another assessment and maybe another talk. And that all before I even went to the field and before I even saw the catastrophes I saw in my own eyes.

SIMON: There was a two-day cease-fire last month, which was intended to let food aid and other forms of aid in. Did that work?

HADI: Two days is not enough. Three days is not enough. One month is not enough. What we need - we need unconditional access to reach the people where they are. I visited health centers. It was horrible. I looked at children lying in beds too sick even to cry, too tired to express their pain. But even next to them I saw mothers who were as in pain as their children, in pain because of seeing their kids sitting there sick, not having the right medical attention, but they themselves are tired. On top of that, when I spoke to those women, what brought you here, how did you come here? Basically they had to borrow money. They had to sell any of their assets just to take a long trip to bring a sick child to a hospital to receive treatment. Honestly, what I witnessed in my own eyes with the team is the worst thing I saw throughout my 25 years career with the World Food Program.

SIMON: The United Nations estimates about 21 million people are in danger of not eating.

HADI: Absolutely. There are 14 million people in Yemen who are food insecure. Out of the 14 million people, there are 7 million people who are severely food insecure. That means people will have to go and find anything to eat. It goes from even trying to look into a grass to eat. I have seen in my own eyes people looking into garbage trying to get something to eat in Yemen. What we need in Yemen is we need support.

First of all, there needs to be an end to this crisis in Yemen. Politicians must do their job. They must find an end to this crisis. At the same time, humanitarians must be supported. We have to support Yemen through food but through other needs. The education must be supported in Yemen because it's obvious now where there is food insecurity, there is no security.

And if you combine the lack of security with the lack of education, what do you get? You get a fertile environment for the terrorist organizations to act and to start recruiting the people there and spreading their venom in the head of the children who will then do this horrible suicide bombing and terrorist acts all over the world. The war in Yemen must end. There is a menu of needs that is required by the Yemeni people at different levels, and we must act before it's too late.

SIMON: Mr. Hadi, while we have you in our studios this week, I would like to also ask about Syria where the World Food Program has been involved. Government forces have recently been able to push into formerly rebel-held areas of Aleppo. What are you hearing about the situation on the ground there?

HADI: The latest reports we received in Syria, Aleppo, even before this latest crisis started, there were no functioning hospitals. The same scenario there. There are kids, children, women looking into garbage trying to find something to eat. But it's not only about eastern Aleppo. It's about anybody in Syria who is in a besieged area. There are about a million people in Syria who are in besieged areas, which we are unable to reach in Syria. Again, we give food to more than 4 million people, but that's not enough. Syria is another country that needs an immediate political solution. There are people just like us in Aleppo sitting under fire knowing that any second probably a bomb or something will land over their heads, and their children will die before them. How could we allow something like this to happen?

SIMON: Muhannad Hadi, Middle East regional director for the World Food Program, thanks for being with us.

HADI: Thank you, sir. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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