17 May, 2013

Hadhramout and the devastating Great Famine of the 1940s

Hadhramout Famine 1940s
In the 1940s, Hadhramout was hit by famine that caused thousands of deaths and forced thousands more to flee Wadi Hadhramaut. Including my late father and late maternal grandfather. It is that famine that has very much defined I be what I am today. And it is that famine, mainly, that created the large Hadhrami immigrants in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Eastern Africa and many other places. Between 1943 and 1944, the famine had reached its worst and deadliest point. It was exacerbated and the result of a combination of factors. First, from 1940 to 1944 - there was no rainfall and crops successively failed due to this and plant diseases. Due to the crops failing and the resulting lack of fodder to feed animals - many camels (which were the main means of transport) died; which in turn disrupted transport and the distribution of food. Second, due to the then ongoing World War II which disrupted shipping (which was the main source of getting food grains to Hadhramaut) - the import of food grain from India declined; India, too, had been affected by the war and had stopped exporting food to Southern Arabia. Third, remittances from Hadharem in Singapore, Indonesia (where most remittances were coming from) and the other so called East Indies - had virtually stopped due to these regions being occupied by the Japanese; and due to the effects of the war. Due to the war and the occupation, too, wealthy Hadhramis in these regions could no longer employ their fellow Hadharem - and these further affected the sending of remittances to Hadhramawt. Note: remittances funded a large part of agricultural activities in Wadi Hadhramawt. With all these three factors hitting at the same time, agricultural output in the Wadi (South Arabia's main 'food basket' during those times) collapsed. Here are some photos of the famine during that period:

Hadhramout Famine 1940s
Hadhramout during that period was under the British Aden Protectorate. Above - Hadhrami civilians unload grain from Vickers Wellington B Mark X, LP202 'F', of the Famine Relief Flight, at Al Qatn (which was then the main air base for relief in Wadi Hadhramout) during operations to alleviate famine in the area.
Hadhramaut Famine 1940s
Hadhrami civilians picking up grain dropped during the unloading of food supplies from aircraft of the RAF Famine Relief Flight at Al Qatn. Many times, sacks of food grains would be dropped right from the air. From May 1944, the RAF Famine Relief Flight airlifted a daily total of 24 tons of grain into Al Qatn landing ground, from where it was taken by RAF transport and camel train to soup kitchens set up in many towns in various parts of the Wadi. These fed thousands of people, twice daily, but was still far too short.
Hadhramawt Famine 1940s
Soup kitchens were established in many parts of the affected areas. These were not enough at all. Thousands of people died. Many were left sick. Many fled to foreign lands. All, mainly due to a war not being fought in Hadhramaut or by the Hadharem, but a war being ferociously fought hundreds or thousands of miles a way. Hadharem have always been resilient at times of crisis and hardships; and Hadhramis are always helpful and supportive of each other during such times. It is these factors that most helped them, more than any other thing or assistance, get through this very hard time.
Hadhramawt Famine 1940s
Above - an emaciated and very malnourished child being attended to. Most such children, the old and the weak never managed to reach such medical centers as the one below. Many just died. An uncle of mine used to tell me how, when some times food was dropped by the RAF from the air, and sacks would split and the grains would spill out - they would run, squat and eat the grains dry and raw due to the hunger.
Hadhramot Famine 1940s
People died of starvation and its accompanying diseases. Thousands of able bodied men like my late father and some of my distant uncles, made the long trek to Shae'her and Mukalla to take boats to foreign lands. Thousands crossed in to Saudi Arabia. It is these immigrants who are the grandfathers of today's large population of the Hadharem in Eastern Africa, South East Asia, India and Saudi Arabia.
Hadhramout Famine 1940s
Children wait outside a soup kitchen for the signal to receive their twice-daily soup ration in Shibam. Standing by are RAF relief workers. Another distant uncle and aunt who managed to flee to East Africa told me how, on reaching Mukalla waiting for dhows to board - they could only feed themselves by working; and getting only a cup of porridge or soup for the whole day. Their work was to go in to food storage warehouses and pick the loose grain that had spilled on the ground and fill in to bowls. Imagine picking grain from the floor, piece by piece! Just to get one mug of soup or porridge for the whole day! It was hard, back breaking work. And demoralizing.
Hadhramaut Famine 1940s
Of all necessities, hunger has the strongest motive. And it can really break a person down. During this disaster, the mortality rate was staggering. An estimated 10,000 to 20,000 people died. The most affected areas were: Al Qatn, Shibam, Seiyoun, Tareem, Wadi Sa'ah and all the way to the areas around Prophet Hud's grave. In Tareem or Tarim (the home town for my maternal grandfather), one-quarter of the population perished. In Ay'naat, a nearby village, it was one-third. Almost every family and household had a member dead. And almost every family and household had a member fleeing to distant lands. This famine created a huge influx of Hadhrami immigrants in many foreign lands. Personally, I believe that, it is this famine that has defined most - Hadhramaut's present history more than any other event. The past dates the present; it is this famine that dates what Hadhramawt is today. And the present dates the future; presently,  much is happening in Hadhramout which will shape what it will be in future.

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