Oregon wheat aid shipped to starving Yemen
The seventh of seven ships loaded with Oregon wheat left Portland Friday for Yemen in the Arabian Gulf.
The wheat was bought from Oregon farmers with Federal aid money by US Aid. It is being distributed by the United Nations World Food program. The conflict in Yemen means 22 million of Yemen's 27 million population need humanitarian aid right now, and 18 million need food assistance.
The 176,000 tons of wheat in seven ships will make the equivalent of 400 million loaves of bread. Stephen Anderson who leads the World Food Program's response to Yemen, said the wheat would land in three ports, Aden, Hodeidah and As Salif, and be milled into flour. Oregon-style soft white wheat is a staple of Yemeni cooking.
Along with oil, peas and lentils and medicine it will be distributed by a network of trucks which have "deconfliction" status, meaning they are supposedly safe from military attack, Anderson told the Portland Tribune. The WFP has 7,000 food distribution points in Yemen. Yemeni bearing vouchers and official identity cards will pick up the flour and transport it, by donkey or moped, back to their families in the worst hit villages, where it will be made into loaves of khobz or aish bread. Aish is also the word for "living."
Yemen is south of Saudi Arabia in the Gulf, opposite Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia.
At a press conference held on the banks of the Willamette, overlooking the ship and outside the office of the Wheat Marketing Center (which tests and markets northwest wheat) Representative Mike McLane of the Republican Caucus in the Oregon House, a Lt. Colonel in the Air National Guard, talked about the bounty of food Oregon has and how important it is to share it with the rest of the world particularly places where hunger is rife.
The wheat was removed from a barge at the Temco terminal by the equivalent of a giant vacuum cleaner then loaded down chutes into the hull of a ship which cannot be named for security purposes.
Pennsylvania native Anderson lives in Sana'a but has children at Reed College and until recently Lewis & Clark College. He thanked the Oregon farmers, and said that although the situation in Yemen is bad - the Saudi-led coalition bombed a school bus killing 29 children Thursday – he is optimistic about the resilience of the children of Yemen.
Anderson told the Business Tribune that at one time the three biggest ports in the world were Aden, Liverpool and Aden. "Even though it's liberated by the internationally recognized. Government now it's still extremely insecure."
Local Yemeni-American Mohamed Alyajouri, an elected member of the Board of Portland Community College, said Portlanders' misconception about Yemen was that thieis just a conflict of sectarian religious violence. "Yemen is suffering from much more than that. We have environmental and public health issues. Some of the educated individuals like me don't know who's fighting whom and what the root cause of the issue is." He feels it is up to him to explain things in an unbiased way.
He said it started with the Arab Spring, allowing people to voice their concerns. "That fell into chaos and a power vacuum, sand there's dual powers trying to control the government, and the people are in the middle."
"We don't have the oil riches of other countries but we don't get the attention of other countries." He believes the wheat will reach "the most vulnerable people," outside the cities, "People who don't know where their next meal is coming from."
His friend Khalid Almaktari, standing in front of an upside-down Yemeni flag, works for UTI in inventory management with Intel. "Oregon became my home in 2011, but I have a lot of family in Yemen." He says his father is in the capital and they communicate by Facebook and WhatsApp when it is not blocked, and he hopes to bring his father to the USA one day.