Elham Manea
Last updated: 6 April, 2013

“I am not accusing the media of any ‘conspiracy’. It is just a matter of fact.”

It is the new normal – hunger is the new normal in Yemen.

Eleven days before of the start of the Yemeni National Dialogue, Oxfam warned that half of the Yemeni population sinks into debt to feed their families and a quarter of a million malnourished children are at risk of dying out of a population of 24 million. In the meantime, 78 percent of the $8 billion pledged by ‘Friends of Yemen’ last year has yet to be delivered and the UN appeal for this year’s humanitarian response is underfunded with just 2 percent of the $716 million it needs.

“Yemen is a Forgotten crisis,” Oxfam emphasized.

Is it really a forgotten crisis?

Certainly the human suffering of Yemenis is not the focus of media’s attention. Big headlines with global political implications are setting the tone for media coverage: “drone attacks targeting Islamist terrorists; fear that Yemen state’s failure will spill over and destabilize the Gulf States; Iran allegedly meddling in Yemen’s affairs; and southern demonstrations demanding secession from the north… etc.”

Headlines about a country like Yemen have to have global implications.

I am not accusing the media of any ‘conspiracy’. It is just a matter of fact. I myself am guilty as charged, for I too used to cover the big headlines when I worked as a journalist for eight years. Sometimes I caught myself with astonishment asking the question: How many people should be killed in order for a story in war and crisis zone areas to be worthy of publication? If the killed people are living in Congo, the answer is a footnote unless the number exceeds hundreds.

ALSO READ The battle against Qat: a one-year-old Yemeni dream growing into reality

And if they are in Yemen, the quarter of a million of malnourished children feared to die this year will not ring a bell inside of you unless you see the faces of your own children in the faces of each child of these 250 000. Did this number distress you when I mentioned it at the first paragraph? Numbers are safe. Numbers are cold. Numbers have no faces.

Maybe because of that I hesitate to use numbers if I want to talk about violations of human rights. I use stories, personal ones, to bring in the human face of these numbers so we can relate to what it means to step into the shoes of that person.

The media did not pay much attention to Oxfam’s warning. But the start of the Yemeni National Dialogue conference was splashed all over major newspapers, Arabic and English alike.  

Granted, it is an important conference. Failure to reach an agreement on the future of Yemeni political system and an inclusive constitution could sink the country into a spiral of violence. If the stagnation of the Yemeni crisis has led to the malnutrition of a quarter of a million of children, how many could die as a result of outright violence?

But that was not the focus of media’s attention. The mere convening of the conference was hailed as a success. Yemen did not collapse as a state. Civil war did not erupt and now those attending the conference have to reach an agreement. That some important political actors were not included in the conference – for example many of the youth who started the Yemeni uprising and segments of the southern movement – was beyond the point. That a power struggle is broiling between the President and his closest alley is sidestepped. That the old regime is reproducing itself albeit in a colourful mantel is known but tolerated.

A solution should be found, a practical one, pragmatic. It should guarantee the security of the Gulf region, continue the international war against terrorism, and prevent Yemen from turning into another Somalia. Failure to guarantee that will be a headline splashed over international media. For this Op-Ed, however, the headline is hunger – the new normal in Yemen.

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE Atiaf Zaid Alwazir: The flawed media narrative on Yemen