As the third year of conflict approaches, no answers are provided for the suffering people of Yemen
"THEY SIMPLY WANT THE WAR TO END"
Our Yemen Country Director, Giorgio Trombatore, reflects upon a 13 hour car-journey he took from Aden to Sana'a, and how it reveals the heavy toll of the armed conflict upon Yemen's people.
It is 5am in the morning and our 13-hour-long journey from Aden to Sana’a has begun.
It is a trip full of contradictions. The shores of Aden still bear the signs of the pre-colonial era, and their beauty captivates me every time. A church on top of a hill strangely stands still intact. We pass busy fish markets near Sira Qala, where the fishermen are already busy with their boats. All over, I can spot hungry cats gathered around young Yemenis who are preparing for their business day.
Yet at the same time, the streets are mostly empty and almost every major hotel bears the scars of the ongoing war – many have been vandalised or half-destroyed. As I look around me, I cannot help but feel a little bit like I am in a book by Peter Hopkirk - whose rich characters and exotic settings served as the backdrop for the intrigues of The Great Game played out along the Asian cusps of the British and Russian Empires in the 19th and early 20th Centuries.
As we drive, we pass by villages where International Medical Corps community health workers are deeply engaged in a hygiene promotion campaign. After a few hours, we arrive in Naqil Al Khashabah, on the other side Yemen’s political divide. Land governed by the internationally recognised government based in Aden is behind us now - we are back in Houthi-controlled territory. As we take a moment to drink tea and find a toilet, I can see that the ground is littered with 12.7 x 108 mm shell casings from machine guns.
In Ibb, one of the most peaceful and untouched towns of the entire country, the situation is completely different. The roads are packed with noisy vehicles; busy people everywhere, busy streets, traffic jams. When we stop at a local restaurant for a quick meal, I cannot help notice some men following us. They are all very well dressed – yet they sit near occupied tables, waiting for other customers to finish, asking them if they can clean the dishes afterwards. There is no shame in it, they sit quietly, they do not bother and even the owners of the restaurant tolerate them as they quietly wait for the remaining of the rascius, the white bread. They are not beggars – they are simply men in search of food. This is not an unusual sight.
Famine and malnutrition is already happening.
The governorate of Hodeida is one of those severely hit by the crisis. In Sa’da, right next door to rooms filled with young soldiers, who are missing limbs or have been badly burned in the recent bombings, there is an entire department dedicated to young children dying from malnutrition. Exact figures are difficult to get, as these areas are still often under attack, but it is estimated that 460,000 children face severe malnutrition in Yemen and more than 100,000 children are at risk in Hodeida alone.
Unlike young fighters – whose remains are sometimes marched through town to chanting in the celebrated “death parades” – the deaths of children are often unacknowledged, quietly taking place in a hidden corner of a hospital.
But it is not only the children who suffer. As the country tries to cope with the unceasing increase of people displaced from their homes by war, the work of NGOs like International Medical Corps has never been more in demand. 70% of population struggle to feed themselves – and famine is expected to be officially declared in large parts of Southern Yemen.
As we leave the towns, we inevitably come across countless of checkpoints – yet more often than not, the guards don’t even bother interrupting their breakfast to raise their heads. It is my sixth trip or so touring all these towns and villages that are now so familiar to me. The present signs of the war are always there – they are now a part of Yemen. Plastic bags gather by the thousands along the road; they keep on piling up as the young soldiers at the checkpoints keep on chewing Qat, the ubiquitous shrub leaf, to get a mild high. These young men, often skinny, tanned and rather wild looking, almost hypnotised by the effects of Qat and never without their weapons, guarding a checkpoint every 300 metres or so, are just a part of the scenery now. Sprawled on the ground, they listen to the melody of a popular Bedouin Yemeni music group called the “Zamil” whom Yemenis from both north and south love.
The country is in a state of collapse. Lack of agreement on both sides of the war has plunged Yemen into a deepening humanitarian crisis. As the third year of conflict approaches, no answers are provided for the suffering people of Yemen. As more and more innocent civilians fall victim to the never-ending bombing campaigns, it seems that many survivors have begun to silently accept their fate. Many Yemenis are so exhausted they no longer care about the outcome. They simply want the war to end.
For these people, fleeing to safety in Europe or elsewhere is beyond the realms of hope.
What does the future hold?
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