A staggering 70 per cent of people in war-torn Yemen depend on humanitarian aid. Yet a blockade recently stopped the flow of emergency supplies into the country.
In this series of vlogs, Tre from the British Red Cross reflects on what life is like for Yemen’s people and what we are doing to help.
Nothing prepares you
I’ve worked on the humanitarian situation in Yemen for years, but always at a distance. It’s only by coming here that you realise what impact two years of conflict has on people and their daily lives.
I’ve met people who had lost neighbours, colleagues, loved ones; doctors that haven’t been paid in over a year. I’ve met mothers forced to fetch water from the street and fathers who did not know if they would be able to feed their children at the end of the day.
Speaking to people, you realise that absolutely everyone is affected by the conflict.
A very personal crisis
I spent most of my time with Yemen Red Crescent volunteers. On the surface, they’re just like our volunteers in the UK. They’re students, part-time workers, retirees – they give up a few hours of their day to volunteer with their local Red Crescent branch.
But in other ways their lives couldn’t be further from our own. Saleem is just a little younger than me. He’s volunteered with the Yemen Red Crescent since 2010.
He knows that when he gets called out, anything could happen. He says, when he leaves home he kisses his parents as if it’s the last time he’ll see them. He says all his friends do the same.
Over the last two years, ten Red Crescent volunteers and staff have died as a result of the conflict. Yet every day, thousands of volunteers turn up for work, knowing the risks they face.
They do everything from first aid training and dead body management to cholera prevention and food and water distributions. In some parts of Yemen, they are the only ones that can reach the local population.
Working without pay
The conflict has forced more than half of Yemen’s health facilities to close. Those that remain open are running low on medicine and equipment.
Against this backdrop, the work of the dedicated doctors and nurses in Yemen is overwhelming. I spent time with Dr Asina, a doctor who has been working at the Yemen Red Crescent clinic for the last 15 years.
Dr Asina hasn’t received a government salary in over a year. She says, when she thinks about what else she could do, she comes up with nothing. This is her vocation, she says it is humanity.
Every day 20 people die due to lack of healthcare, many from entirely treatable conditions. Yet with only 30 per cent of the medicines needed available in the country, doctors here face an impossible task. Dr Asina says she prescribes medicines to people but most are never able to buy them.
Old Sana’a is so majestic and beautiful. Walking around you can’t help but ask yourself: can this really be a war zone?
If things were different, people from all over the world would flock here to take in the beautiful architecture, the amazing food and the wondrous coffee. Yet the only foreigners here are aid workers and no one in Yemen takes a holiday.
I’m quickly reminded of the harsh reality when we come across hundreds of jerry cans in a neat line. Every day thousands of people across Sana’a make their way to Yemen Red Crescent water points.
It is here I meet Sultana. She has been coming to the water point for the last few years. She tells me every day she wakes up and wonders if she will be able to eat. Sultana has six children to look after and because of the poor sanitary conditions and lack of water, they are always sick.
Across Yemen, a staggering 900,000 cases of cholera have been reported. 2,160 people have died from the disease.
Though the number of reported cases is going down, the recently imposed border closure means vital water treatment materials are not getting through. There are real fears about what that will mean for people.
Do what you can
With my time in Yemen drawing to an end, it’s hard to express what I’m feeling. I’ve bonded deeply with this place and its people.
Everyone has been so warm and caring here, it’s hard not to feel guilty for leaving, particularly having seen the situation they will continue to face.
But I’m happy that I got to know a bit more about Yemen beyond the conflict. I want the world to remember that Yemen is more than just another conflict. It is a home to some of the most incredible people and most beautiful culture I have ever met or experienced.