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Displaced by War, Some Yemenis Sift through Garbage for Food


Members of the Ruzaiq family eat a meal outside their hut, next to a garbage dump where they collect recyclables and food near the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, Yemen, Jan. 9, 2018.

After persistent Saudi-led air strikes on their home area in northwest Yemen, the Ruzaiq family packed their belongings and fled to the relative safety of Hodeidah port on the Red Sea.

But with no money or relatives to shelter them, the 18-member family joined a growing number of displaced Yemenis living on or next to the garbage dump of the Houthi-controlled city.

Despite the health risks, the dump has become a source of food for hundreds of impoverished Yemenis and given some young men a chance to try to earn some income.

"We eat and drink the food that is thrown away," said 11-year-old Ayoub Mohammed Ruzaiq. "We collect fish, meat, potatoes, onions and flour to make our own food."

Ayoub Mohammed Ruzaiq found chili peppers at a garbage dump near the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, Yemen, Jan. 09, 2018.
Ayoub Mohammed Ruzaiq found chili peppers at a garbage dump near the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, Yemen, Jan. 09, 2018.

The United Nations estimates that more than two million people have been displaced by the war, which intensified in 2015 when an Arab coalition intervened to try to restore President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to power after the Houthis forced him into exile.

The war has killed more than 10,000 people, crippled the economy, caused a cholera epidemic that has killed nearly 2,000 people and pushed the country to the verge of famine.

The Saudi-led coalition denies Houthi accusations that it targets civilians or civilian property in its operations. Riyadh sees the Houthis as a proxy militia linked to regional rival Iran. Both Iran and the Houthis deny any military cooperation.

Fatema Hassan Marouai, 53, who was driven from her home in Hodeidah by economic hardships, said that apart from picking up food thrown away by better off Yemenis, some displaced people collect metal cans and plastic bottles to sell to merchants for some cash to cover daily needs.

Food is stored in a broken refrigerator belonging to 18-member Ruzaiq family who live next to a garbage dump where they collect recyclables and food near the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, Yemen, Jan. 16, 2018.
Food is stored in a broken refrigerator belonging to 18-member Ruzaiq family who live next to a garbage dump where they collect recyclables and food near the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, Yemen, Jan. 16, 2018.

But she said income from that activity was also declining. Merchants who once paid up to 50 Yemeni rials ($0.11) for a kg of plastic bottles, now offer 10 rials only, she said.

"We had been in a bad situation and the war made things worse," said Fatema.

Ruzaiq family patriarch Mohammed Ruzaiq, 67, said Yemenis were not asking for any aid from outside, just a goodwill effort to end the war.

"All we want is for them to stop this war and this calamity and God almighty will provide for us," he said.

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