Finding Hope in Yemen, as I witnessed never ending war unfolding to a catastrophe
I still remember the night of March 26th 2015 when airstrikes started across Yemen. Our team in Harad, far north of the country, was glued to the television and we had no clue what was coming next. It was my first live experience of active war. The travel to the capital Sana’a was not an option at all due to the danger and likely airstrikes, and my few colleagues and I were evacuated the next day from Al-Hudaydah seaport, on the north-west coast.
Though we were among the few lucky ones who were able to leave the country, our forced departure from Yemen and the six-day desperate journey, through the Mediterranean Sea to the Suez Canal, were filled with pain, desperation, fear, and of course uncertainty about the destination. A pair of denims, my passport, and a few valuable personal documents were the only few items in my bag, along with an immense hope to return to Yemen. I took an assignment in West Africa two months after the evacuation, but Yemen was always in my heart, waiting for that fine day when I would reunite with the Yemeni people.
Life took a full circle and a few months later, I returned to Yemen by choice, without any hesitation or fear. On my return, I saw the desperate situation of hundreds of thousands of displaced people and those hosting them who are at the brink of losing their hope and dreams to live with dignity.Working in Yemen is not without challenges. Bombs are still falling, destroying hospitals, schools and markets, while active combat can flare at any moment. For the past 11 months, I was based in Shaffar town as the Program Manager, for Hajjah governorate, in the North of the country, where Oxfam provides humanitarian assistance to hundreds of thousands of people.
Due to the proximity of the Saudi border, the area sees consistent and intense bombardment, which makes the provision of safe and clean water and the distribution of large scale cash transfers to those most in need, really difficult. The security risk to deliver humanitarian assistance is very high and requires a comprehensive assessment for day to day movement, which greatly slows down our operations, while the needs keep increasing. In Hajjah, displaced people live either in camps in open spaces or with communities kindly hosting them, often sheltering in poor makeshift structures. Food is not always available, and most of the time too expensive for them to afford. People have no work and so are forced to sell livestock, the little monetary asset they have, or rely on food assistance, which has been drastically reduced since the beginning of the crisis.
People from Hajjah have received family, friends and strangers with many households hosting two or three families. Household income has reduced and stretched. Everyone is now struggling to survive on day to day basis.
For those who are displaced and live on their own, a single meal a day is becoming the norm, increasingly leading to acute malnutrition. Adverse weather conditions with high temperature, sand storms, intense rain fall and strong winds, as well as drinking water scarcity did not allow those displaced from managing their own situation, and so they have been further pushed into shattered conditions.
Health facilities have also been destroyed or can no longer function, so people are forced to walk long distances for care, or are often left without any support.
When almost everyone needs humanitarian aid, it is vital to make decisions with the communities themselves to identify those most in need. We talk a lot and discuss the criteria for assistance, so we can jointly with the community select those who should benefit from the aid first.
Humanitarian assistance is obviously not enough to help everyone, but in Hajjah and Al-Hudaydah governorates we have provided assistance to more than 600,000 affected individuals with shelter, clean water, improved sanitation and hygiene, and cash transfers.
Giving out cash is a sensitive program so we try as much as we can to engage with affected people and power holders, and be transparent about what we are doing, so we can be accountable to the entire community.
Many people also join our team as volunteers so they can learn and help each other.
After a year working in the area, we also have a team who mediates between displaced people, the communities and the authorities. They monitor security threats and identify potential conflict. They are a dedicated vital part of the response.
I am now based in Sana’a and support Oxfam’s operation countrywide. My journey which started with the evacuation in March 2015 still continues and so does the war.