Presbyterian Disaster Assistance joins the Presbyterian Hunger Program to respond to famine and poverty in Yemen
by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — The crisis demands attention.
In war-torn Yemen, 75 percent of the population lives in poverty, with 60 percent food insecure and 8.4 million people unsure of where their next meal will come from, according to United Nations statistics. By any measure the crisis is escalating quickly, with a 61 percent decline in gross domestic product per capita over the past three years and 1.25 million civil servants not being paid in the past 18 months.
As the situation deteriorated in Yemen, its urgency was obvious to the Presbyterian Hunger Program and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.
“We were very worried about the situation on the ground, and we also had a lot of churches calling saying, ‘Things look really bad in these places. What are we doing?’” recalls Valéry Nodem, Associate for International Hunger Concerns for the Presbyterian Hunger Program. “So, we reached out to establish some connections.”
And therein lay the challenge.
“Yemen is a place where we have no partners — church partners, in a sense,” says Luke Asikoye, Associate for International Disaster Response for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.
Yemen is an Islamic nation with a very small Christian population and no Presbyterian presence. So when the Hunger Program and Disaster Assistance decided they wanted to become engaged in helping address the nation’s humanitarian crisis, the first order of business was to identify an organization already responding on the ground.
“We connected with partners in the region and with sister churches in the U.S. to see if they had connections in Yemen,” Nodem says. “With a list of groups that we were provided, we started engaging in conversations and organizations to understand the situation on the ground better, what was being done, and what the needs were.”
The Hunger Program decided to partner with Generations Without Qat, a development organization formed in 2007 to work on education around issues related to poverty, health and youth. In 2014, with the crisis in the country, the group began to work on providing rapid response activities and relief support to conflict-affected communities.
The initial Hunger Program funding was $13,000, to which Disaster Assistance later added $10,000.
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The project is in the Al Mukha district in the southwest corner of the country. The project will provide fishing kits and training to almost 500 families of internally displaced people. The partnership does two things strategically: It puts local people in charge of the projects, and it provides a long-term solution to hunger and poverty.
“It’s important, even in situations of conflict, to still think about long-lasting solutions,” Nodem says. “By providing fishing nets and training to families, they can feed themselves for the duration of the project and beyond. The project will also help generate revenues for families, as they can sell fish in local markets.”
In situations like this, Asikoye says, Disaster Assistance and the Hunger Program aspire to help increase the local group’s capacity by adding additional assistance to scale up the project. And, particularly in a difficult situation like Yemen, the church grows from their partnership.
“We have not worked in a place that had so many challenges,” Nodem says. “And if I look at the amount of funding we are currently sending to Yemen, it’s really a drop in the bucket.
“As the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, this is for sure the hardest crisis we have worked on.”
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