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View Of Rebel-Held Areas Of Yemen From 'PBS NewsHour'

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

About 1,200 people from Yemen get to stay in the United States, for now.

NOEL KING, HOST:

The Department of Homeland Security says it will extend their temporary protected status. That status lets people stay longer in the U.S. when disasters strike their homelands. Yemen's civil war has led to mass hunger and disease, and it is a war in which the U.S. plays a role.

INSKEEP: So what is the situation to which the Yemenis cannot return? Jane Ferguson of "PBS NewsHour" had a look at the rebel side in the civil war.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PBS NEWSHOUR")

JANE FERGUSON: The only way into rebel-held Yemen is to smuggle yourself in. And for me, that means to be dressed entirely as a Yemeni woman with a full-face veil just to get through the checkpoints.

INSKEEP: Saudi Arabia, with U.S. support, is backing one side. Ferguson told us about her rare visit to the other side, where a group known as Houthis control the capital city Sanaa.

FERGUSON: Any time you go to a country that's at war or has some sort of crisis, you'll just notice that streets are dark at night simply because of the lack of electricity. In the capital, they have no state-supplied electricity. It's all generators right now. So when the sun comes up and the city gets started, I think the most noticeable thing is just the huge amount of beggars. The number of entirely destitute people is extremely high.

INSKEEP: Was that not true if you were in Sanaa five or 10 years ago?

FERGUSON: It certainly was. I mean, it's always been a place where poverty and people have been dangerously close to or below the poverty line. But the levels of that now are so significantly higher. And the other thing that you notice in the city, as well, is obviously the presence of the Houthis. I mean, their posters, their slogans, their images of their martyrs, as they see them, the dead fighters, are everywhere. And you just notice more armed people. You know, many people carry Kalashnikovs where they go.

INSKEEP: Is there food in the stores?

FERGUSON: Plenty. Plenty. The stores are full of food. There's food in the city. It's expensive. It's certainly more expensive than it was. But it's - you know, this isn't a food crisis. It's a hunger crisis caused by a financial crisis. And you go to the markets where ordinary folks who go out and buy their groceries, and you just notice that people - you talk to the traders. They say, you know, people aren't really buying. You know, they're window-shopping food.

INSKEEP: How did you come across the images, which some people have seen by now, of just desperately, desperately thin - you could see their rib cages and beyond - terribly underweight children?

FERGUSON: The first thing that we did was visit the hospitals. Whether it's a hospital in the city or out in the rural areas, they all have - I mean they know, the nurses, by this stage, know, whenever you come that you're going to be wanting to visit the children's wards, which they now call malnutrition wards. And for children, it just hits them so much harder. You'll see a parent sitting next to them, and the parent is clearly malnourished and very thin. But they're coping. Their body is coping. But for children, you know, they develop diarrhea. They vomit. Like, they can't keep food down eventually, and then they just become so incredibly vulnerable to infectious diseases.

INSKEEP: So as you traveled across this partly bombed-out city and some of the surrounding countryside and saw people desperately hungry, did you believe you were getting the full picture, given that you were there by permission of one side in a brutal war?

FERGUSON: I was. I did believe that in terms of the humanitarian impact, one thing that I was able to do, even though the Houthis watched me very closely, was to be able to say, well, this is where I want to go in terms of covering this humanitarian crisis. Now, they wouldn't let me go to Hodeida, which is down along the coastline, and that's very badly affected. And that's because they're fighting battles down there. They consider that a military zone, and they are very paranoid about journalists. They don't want anyone down there. But I was able to travel around fairly independently.

INSKEEP: After doing this reporting, you've come here to the United States for a number of days. What is the gap you see, if any, between what Americans generally understand about this war and what you've actually witnessed there?

FERGUSON: Americans, to my knowledge, and certainly those that I've spoken to, seem extremely unaware that this war is going on, but also that the United States plays a certain role. And that's partly because of the efforts to keep journalists out of Yemen, but also partly because America's role is very much so in the background. But when you're on the ground in Sana'a - I think in my pieces that was made clear - whether people support the Houthis or not, they have all said, you know, well, we don't really understand the perspective that America says it's not really involved in this war because if you're supplying and helping, well, then you're part of the coalition.

INSKEEP: "PBS NewsHour" correspondent Jane Ferguson spoke with us earlier this week. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.