What Happens in Three Years? Reflecting on Conflict in Yemen
What Happens in Three Years? Reflecting on Conflict in Yemen
In three years, so many things can happen in people’s lives. A child will start kindergarten, while some people will finish a bachelor’s degree. In three years, someone can meet the love of their live and get married or another person may start a successful enterprise. It’s not hard to imagine the innumerable changes that can happen to a developed country where education and health are its main priorities. Now imagine what change can happen to a country that is considered the poorest in the Middle East and exhausted of war.
After three years of brutal conflict, Yemeni people have been left sick, starving, and in the dark, warns CARE. On March 26, the anniversary of the conflict in Yemen, Hind Abbas, communications assistance in CARE Yemen, reflects on the situation in Yemen, and where we go from here.
March 2015: A shocking moment
March 26, 2015, was the day that changed the life of millions of Yemenis. In less than three hours, aircrafts hovered in the sky. People were shocked by what was happening, hoping that when the sun rose, the escalating violence would be just a bad nightmare that had passed. They thought it would only last for a couple of days, but sadly three days passed and there was still war; three weeks passed and there was still war; three months passed and there was still war; and, today, on March 26, 2018, three years will have passed, yet the situation keeps deteriorating. Who can forget the pictures of hundreds of Yemenis around the world stuck in airports, not being able to come back to their hometown or families? The lives of everyday Yemenis were completely paralyzed: the streets were empty; schools and universities were closed. Airstrikes were intensive and there was ground fighting in different cities and villages. In only one month, more than 1.8 million were forced to flee their homes, becoming internally displaced people within Yemen. A glimpse of hope returned to people when the airport was reopened, and people could both come back and travel abroad for medical treatment, education, and whatever else they liked. Students resumed school and universities reopened. But, unfortunately, today, around 1. 9 million children are estimated to be out of school.
March 2016: Economic decline and airport closure
As the second year approached, people started to find coping mechanisms to help them survive the brutality and hardship of conflict. They learned how to sleep through the sound of airstrikes. They learned to put on a brave smile and hide all their pain and struggles. Everyone had their own creative coping mechanisms of how to continue living. While airstrikes continued in the sky and ground fighting spread throughout different areas in the country, the number of internally displaced people increased to 2.8 million, and most of them women and children. And yet, more strife was left to come- the airport closed in Sana’a and salaries stopped being paid.
When Sana’a airport was closed, it 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’s very hard for people who suffer from critical health conditions to travel for 12 hours and get stopped at every checkpoint, just to be able to go to Aden airport to travel outside of Yemen. I remember the story of Amira, an old woman who wasn’t able to travel for 12 hours to Aden to fly out of Yemen, because she has to carry her oxygen cylinder with her. Nobody could forget the story of Ali, who wanted to travel to see his son and grandchildren and to seek medical care, but he died whilst he was waiting for the airport to open. These stories are not rare. There are so many of them that they have become innumerable.
Given the difficult situation in Yemen, cutting the public-sector salaries have made huge impacts on the economy and public services. It has left an approximate 1.2 million civil servants destitute and hungry, and not just the 1.2 million civil servants themselves, but also their spouses, their children, and their parents- how will they be able to afford their next meal, and will there even be food or cooking gas? Today, over eight million people are on the brink of famine. People don’t know where their next meal will come from. Ameena, a woman who was dependent on her husband’s salary, said, “We were happy with the little that we have, but now we have only bread to feed me and my eight children.” How long can this go on?
Third year: Diseases spread
As the war entered its third year, the humanitarian needs increased tremendously from where it begun. Initially 14 million people needed humanitarian assistance, and just three years later, 22.2 million Yemenis — nearly three in every four people — rely on humanitarian aid to survive. On top of all the grievous humanitarian needs, dengue fever, malaria, diphtheria and cholera were spreading fast. In May 2017, there was a huge outbreak of cholera, reaching 50,000 Yemenis in only three months. Yemenis will never forget the images of crowded hospitals, the deaths of thousand people and the risk of the disease spreading again — but will the world even remember?
Fourth year: The unknown
As we approach the fourth year of fighting in Yemen, today it is in the hands of decision-makers, the parties to the conflict, and the international community to end this war. If the war continues, hunger, destruction, disease, and death will dominate, and this is what Yemen will be known for. Yemen deserves better.
Looking at three years of destroyed infrastructure, starvation and spread of diseases, the humanitarian needs increase enormously from one year to another at unimaginable rates. Any of these would be enough to stop the war in Yemen, but all of them together are just staggering. Peace is what will allow us to rebuild and improve our country, whereas war is the cause of destruction and disintegration, and the Yemeni people have been suffering the brunt of a conflict we have never wanted for far too long. Peace must take the place of destruction. Development and building must take the place of starvation. Laughter and happiness and normalcy should take the place of the endless stories of sadness and destruction and death. Yemenis deserve more than this. Yemen deserves better.
As humanitarian needs grow in Yemen, so does the need for strong foreign assistance funding in the U.S. budget. The recent FY 18 spending bill (called the Omnibus) provides $55.9 billion in funding for foreign assistance programs that combat poverty and save lives around the globe. However, negotiations have begun for the FY19 budget, and the Trump administration has proposed devastating cuts to foreign aid when the world needs it most. Send a message to your member of Congress today and urge them to protect foreign assistance funding and solidify U.S. leadership for a safer world for all.
Written by Hind Abbas, Communications Assistance, CARE Yemen