The civil war gripping Yemen for the last three years has created one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters as millions of people face starvation. In an effort to understand the scope of the crisis, The Associated Press launched a one-year project with the Pulitzer Center, a non-profit news organization that helps cover underreported stories internationally. AP Cairo-based reporter Maggie Michael, one of the few journalists who has followed the unfolding tragedy in Yemen from the beginning, often at great risk, used the Pulitzer grant for an extended reporting trip across Yemen with Cairo photographer Nariman el-Mofty and Yemen-based videographer Maad al-Zekri.
In all, they drove more than 400 miles through five governorates, including one harrowing drive near an active front line outside of Khoukha, from their base in Aden. They interviewed mothers and families affected, plus food experts, doctors and volunteers, and they found that more than 8.4 million of the nation’s 29 million people rely almost completely on food aid.
The team’s courageous efforts to tell this story win the Beat of the Week.
Rising each day at 5 a.m. and working past dark on the weeklong journey, the AP team also found a story hidden underneath the abayas that shroud Yemeni women: Mothers were skipping meals to feed their children, serving in some cases as the last defense against the hunger that has killed thousands. The package included moving photos by el-Mofty and videos from al-Zekri showing the shrunken rib cages of children barely clinging to life and other horrifying images from the famine.
“Abyan’s Hagar story was the one that touched us the most,” recalled Michael. The stoical, hard-working woman, who lives in a rude hut with her husband and hungry children, “broke into tears while telling us about her conditions. She served us bread and tea and opened her heart to us.”
Using el-Mofty’s photos and al-Zekri’s footage, digital storytelling producer Nat Castaneda created a video that brought viewers into the mother’s home. Meanwhile, Michael and Middle East enterprise editor Lee Keath collaborated on a piece that captured the scope of the team’s journey across the country.
The May 3 story of people living on one meal a day drew more than 1:30 minutes of reader engagement, a level considered very high, more than 3,000 hits on the AP app, 192 hits on Newswhip and hundreds of shares on Twitter.
For empathetic work and persistent dedication in chronicling the desperate state of Yemen, a crisis much of the world is ignoring, Michael, el-Mofty and al-Zekri share this week’s $500 Beat of the Week award.