The day that changed the lives of millions of Yemenis was 26 March 2015, when, within five hours, the sky filled with aircraft. People were shocked by what was happening, hoping that when the sun next rose, this would just have been a bad dream.
They thought it would only last for a couple of days, but sadly five days passed and five was still war; five weeks passed and there was still war; five months passed and there was still war; and, today we are in the fifth year ,yet the situation keeps deteriorating.
Who can forget the pictures of hundreds of Yemenis around the world stuck in airports, unable to return to their hometowns or families? The lives of everyday Yemenis were completely paralysed; the streets were empty; schools and universities were closed. Airstrikes were intensive and there was ground fighting in many different cities and villages.
“My children and I went to bed hungry many nights. We didn’t find enough food to eat. There were times I told them I wasn’t hungry so that whatever food I put on the table would be enough for them,” said Samiah, a mother of three now living in Hodeidah.
This heartbreaking story is no different than the stories of nearly 18 million mothers, fathers and children in Yemen who constantly struggle with not having enough food.
Food insecurity. Famine. Starvation. The dire reality facing the Yemeni people has been caused by nearly a four-year devastating war. The war has crippled an already-ailing economy, caused mass displacement, disrupted salary payments, hiked food and fuel prices, paralyzed delivery of key services, and led to a deadly cholera epidemic.
Within just one month, more than 1.8 million people had been forced to flee their homes, becoming internally displaced within Yemen. There was a glimmer of hope when the airport reopened, and people were able to both come back and to travel abroad for medical treatment, education and other purposes. Students resumed school and universities also reopened. But, unfortunately, today, 1 million children are estimated to be out of school.
The closure of Sana’a airport caused severe harm. According to the ministry of health, an estimated 10,000 Yemenis have died from critical health conditions, largely because they could not leave Yemen to access medical treatment abroad. It is very hard for people who suffer from a critical illness to travel for 12 hours, be stopped at every checkpoint, just to be able to go to Aden airport to travel outside Yemen.
As the second year of war began, people started to find coping mechanisms to help them survive its brutality. They learned how to sleep through the sound of airstrikes. They learned to put on a brave smile and hide their pain. While airstrikes continued, and ground fighting spread throughout many areas, the number of internally displaced people increased to nearly 2.4 million. And yet, still more was to come – the airport was closed in Sana’a and salaries stopped being paid.
Given the turmoil that Yemen is in, cutting public-sector salaries has had a huge impact on the economy and public services. It left civil servants destitute and hungry, as well as their spouses, children and parents – how will they be able to afford their next meal, and will there even be food or cooking gas?
Today, more than 8 million people are on the brink of famine. People don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
As the war entered its third year, Yemen’s humanitarian needs increased tremendously, with 22.2 million Yemenis – nearly three in every four people – reliant on humanitarian aid to survive. On top of this, dengue fever, malaria, diphtheria and cholera began to spread fast. In May 2017, there was a huge outbreak of cholera, which went on to affect 1 million Yemenis before the end of the year. Yemenis will never forget the images we saw of crowded hospitals, and the fear of the disease spreading again.
In 2016, amid this worsening crisis, the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) partnered to prevent a full-blown famine in Yemen. This partnership was designed to respond to the food shortages plaguing Yemen.
The limited access to key goods, coupled with the decreasing and fluctuating national currency, has led to skyrocketing food prices, making food inaccessible to even Yemenis with steady income. Through the Yemen Emergency Crisis Response Project (YECRP), a USD $300 million project, the World Bank and UNDP work together to shore-up two key national institutions. Despite the conflict, the Social Fund for Development (SFD) and the Public Works Project (PWP) have been able to continue their community-based services while working in harmony with humanitarian partners to help Yemenis.
The degree of deterioration of basic services such as water, sanitation, agriculture and education has exhausted the available international humanitarian resources. The conflict has also exacerbated chronic poverty, resulting in a drastic increase in severe hunger and acute malnutrition among 1.1 million mothers and 1.8 million children.
Such high rates of malnutrition has been aggravated by crumbling healthcare services, with only 50 percent of the country’s health facilities fully functional. Furthermore, the serious damage caused to the country’s water and sanitation infrastructure has exposed the people to water-borne diseases and other health risks.
Now, as we enter the fifth year the war in Yemen, it is up to political powers and the international community to end it. If the war continues, hunger, destruction, disease, and death will dominate, and this is what Yemen will be known for.
Peace has to take the place of destruction. Development and infrastructure have to take the place of starvation. Laughter and happiness and normality should take the place of the endless stories of sadness and destruction and death. Yemenis deserve more than this. Yemen deserves better. Yemen deserves better.
Looking at four years of destroyed infrastructure, starvation and unchecked spread of disease, the humanitarian needs have increased from one year to another at an insane rate. Peace and not surrender is the only thing that will allow us to rebuild our country; the Yemeni people have been suffering for far too long.