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Micah Albert: Reporter’s Notebook — The First Taste of Yemen

I arrived in Yemen yesterday ruminating on somewhat contradictory mental snapshots of the country. It’s the place where Noah’s Ark was launched and Osama bin Laden’s father was born. It is a country where Westerners are kidnapped by tribesmen (but rarely harmed), where suicide bombers struck the USS Cole in 2000, where young women lower the blinds and cast off their abayas to dance and chew qat [a mild stimulant derived from a shrub] with their friends.

Inhabited almost since the dawn of humanity, Yemen is, in many ways, the birthplace of all our lives. The sons of Noah knew it as the land of milk and honey, Gilgamesh came here to search for the secret of eternal life, wise men gathered frankincense and myrrh from its mountains and, most famously, a woman known simply as the Queen of Sheba said Yemen was her home.

I have come to Yemen to report on many things, but the overarching, pressing story is food security. Though the global food crisis dropped from the front pages of newspapers a year ago, the reality of food shortages and alarming malnutrition rates has not subsided—in fact, it has worsened.

I hope to shed light back on this urgent issue and potentially return some media attention to this topic while traveling as a photojournalist with the World Food Programme (WFP) as they begin a $30 million emergency food operation to assist 600,000 people here.

Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East and trouble is brewing for this Gulf nation. The oil sector provides 90 percent of export earnings but what little oil they have is running out. Meanwhile, Yemen seems headed for a multifaceted crisis; it is grappling with high levels of poverty, rising unemployment, catastrophic nationwide water shortages, and the fertility rate is booming. As to the link between poverty and food security, the following statistic highlights the depth of the problem:in Yemen, the average family spends 65 percent of their yearly income on food. In the United States, it's less than 9.5 percent.

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