Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 6 April 2020

Desperate Yemenis risk illness eating expired foods

Children's hospital reports threefold increase in cases of food poisoning as impoverished parents struggle to feed their families.
The chaos of war in Yemen has allowed many traders to sell expired foodstuffs. Abdel Rahman Abdallah / AFP November 19, 2016
The chaos of war in Yemen has allowed many traders to sell expired foodstuffs. Abdel Rahman Abdallah / AFP November 19, 2016

ADEN // Early one morning, nine-year-old Ahmed Al Zikri collapsed at home with stomach pains and vomiting. His mother gave him milk to settle his stomach but it only made him worse.

When hours passed with no improvement in Ahmed’s condition, his father Ali borrowed a neighbour’s car and took his son to hospital in Al Maafer, 50 kilometres away their home in Al Zakera, Taez province.

“At the hospital, the doctor told me that my son had food poisoning, and then I realised that it was because of the expired foodstuffs that I buy for my children,” said Mr Al Zikri. The doctor confirmed Mr Al Zikri’s fears.

After two years of war in Yemen, food has become scarce and expensive. Food items which have passed their expiry date cost less and with little or no quality control, they are openly on sale in shops. Impoverished families sometimes have no alternative but to consume food which may be unsafe because it is a couple of months past its use-by date.

As a low-paid labourer in the construction industry, money is tight at the best of times for Mr Al Zikri and his family of six children. The war has stopped construction so there is no work for him and the family is dependent on charity for food. But when that is not enough, Mr Al Zikri resorts to buying food which is past its use-by date.

“I cannot buy fresh milk or juice for my children but when they beg me for them, I buy milk, juice, biscuits and other things which have expired because they cost less than a quarter of the usual price,” he said. “I’ve been buying expired food for a year and my children never suffered any illness. Until now.”

Mr Al Zikri said shopkeepers had always told him it was safe to eat food that was two months out of date. “But I will not buy out-of-date food any more because I’ve seen the effect on my son.”

Ahmed had to stay in hospital for seven days and Mr Al Zikri had to sell his wife’s jewellery to pay for it. It cost far more than the food he had bought s treats for his children.

Lying in a hospital bed close by was four-year-old Ameer Aqlan. He too had food poisoning.

“It’s his older sister’s fault,” said Ameer’s mother, Iqbal, who never leaves his side. “ She got him juice and biscuits which were past the expiry date. We’ve been here three days.”

The director of paediatrics at the Motherhood and Childhood Hiospital, Ibtesam Taha, confirmed that the number of children who suffer from food poisoning has greatly increased in the last year because more people are eating unsafe food.

“We used to receive about 20 cases a year. In the last year we’ve had more than 60 children come into the hospital with food poisoning. Other children have died at home because they live too far away or couldn’t get to hospital in time,” she said.

The local markets in Taez are full of expired foodstuffs. One trader in Al Nashama, a village close to the hospital, said he and other merchants sold out-of-date goods because there was no one to stop them.

“Before the war, markets were inspected and we couldn’t sell expired goods,” he said. “But now we sell them openly for reasonable prices and there is a huge demand.”

foreign.desk@thenational

Updated: March 24, 2017 04:00 AM

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