SANAA: After Mustafa’s father was killed in Yemen’s conflict between the government and Shiite Huthi rebels, the 15-year-old turned to begging to survive.
He is just one of scores of Yemeni children who plead for donations at the rebel-held capital’s road junctions every day to feed themselves and their siblings.
Some have lost one or both parents in the war that escalated in 2015, while others seek to help parents whose public salaries have dried up in the conflict.
After Mustafa’s father died two years ago in the northern town of Haradh, the teenager moved to the capital with his mother and three brothers.
“I tried to find a job but I couldn’t,” says Mustafa.
“We’ve been begging in the streets of Sanaa since we stopped finding anything to eat,” he says, adding he makes no more than $5 a day.
Nearby, eight-year-old Abeer runs from one car to the next asking for money, her younger brother Abdulrahman in tow.
“We don’t have anything to eat so we came to find some money or food,” she says, as she quickly tucks away a banknote in her handbag.
Thin and pale-faced, child beggars gather outside mosques and restaurants waiting for donations.
At street intersections, young boys equipped with rags and plastic bottles filled with soap water strive to make a living by wiping windshields.
Others sit beside their mothers selling boxes of tissues.
Yemen’s conflict has taken a heavy humanitarian toll since it worsened in March 2015 with the military intervention of a Saudi-led coalition in support of the government.
More than 7,400 people have been killed in the war since that date, the UN says, including around 1,400 children.
‘Nothing to eat’
Another three million Yemenis have been displaced by the conflict and millions are in need of food aid.
In Sanaa, some Yemenis have been unpaid since President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi decided in September to move the central bank out of the city and into his government’s temporary capital of Aden.
The move has left the rebels, who have set up their own administration in Sanaa, unable to pay the salaries of public sector employees.
“The number of child beggars has surged, mainly after salaries stopped for government employees in the capital,” says Ahmed al-Qurashi, head of Seyaj, a Yemeni organisation for the protection of children.
On the pavements of the capital, scores of children sit waiting for cars to stop at traffic lights.
“We have nothing to eat or drink,” eight-year-old Raghad tells people as she begs for help.
United Nations aid chief Stephen O’Brien last month warned Yemen could face famine this year if no immediate action was taken.
In an impoverished country of 27 million people already suffering from widespread food insecurity before the war, hunger has escalated with millions in need of food aid.
Nearly 2.2 million Yemeni children are acutely malnourished, according to UNICEF, the UN childrens’ agency.
“Malnutrition hit us suddenly and has risen even since,” says Ahmed Yusuf, a paediatrician who works in the capital.
“Neither the government, nor non-governmental organisations are able to provide a solution to deal with this catastrophe,” he says.
“The children have been left to face their fate alone.”
Desperate to help their malnourished children, some parents have resorted to selling their belongings to treat them, Yusuf says.
But in some cases, the doctor says, “the child dies while the father is still holding the prescription”.