Yemen

  • Oxfam has been working hard to improve water and sanitation services, as well as the livelihoods of people living in poverty. Since 2015, we’ve reached more than three million Yemeni people with clean water, food vouchers, cash transfers and hygiene kits as part of our emergency response.

    With the arrival of Covid-19, we refocused our work to respond. Across Yemen, we’re training community health volunteers to spread the word about the virus and the importance of hygiene and hand washing.

In Yemen, my child cries all night from hunger

Written by: Ibrahim Alwazir | Edited by: Lauren Heartnett

Since the war in Yemen escalated in 2015, millions of its people have been displaced – losing their livelihoods and leaving most or all of their belongings behind. Forced from their homes, they have had to flee, resettle and survive.

The small informal settlements, where many now live, lack basic services like clean water, safe sanitation, electricity, schools and more. Oxfam and other organisations, from the UN to small local NGOs, are doing all we can to help these families, but a massive gap in funding and ongoing challenges accessing vulnerable communities continues to put this response at risk.

Cases of COVID-19 were first confirmed in Yemen in early April. It has been spreading throughout the country since, but without sufficient testing, healthcare facilities or other infrastructure, it’s difficult to accurately estimate how many people have been affected.

Hunger has always been an urgent threat, with many areas of Yemen on the brink of famine for years. Cases of malnutrition, particularly among children, are all too commonplace. The price of food has increased and the basics are often difficult to find, putting food out of reach for most Yemenis.  In some cases, families have been forced to have their daughters married at a young age so they have one less mouth to feed, or in the hope that they will have a better chance in another’s care.

Hakeem stands near his tent in the settlement for displaced families, where he lives and also works with Oxfam to promote good health and sanitation, with a focus on how to stay healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Haafedh Almattabi / Oxfam

Oxfam’s Public Health Community Programme

Oxfam’s Public Health Community Volunteer Hakeem Asser is working in one of these small informal settlements in Al-Qaflah district in Amran governorate, where 45 families now live. He also was forced to leave his home and is now living in this community with his family, including his seven children. He is helping to raise awareness in his community about the threat of COVID-19 and educate people on how to protect their families. 

“I am a [paid] volunteer with Oxfam and this helps me provide for my family, help my community and learn,” said Hakeem. “You can’t imagine how desperate people are. I can see them during the night, worried, sad, and totally unready to face another day. I try to calm them down and tell them it will be alright. Even with the payments from Oxfam, I am struggling, too. The other day I couldn’t afford to buy milk for my child. He was malnourished two years ago and I took him to a hospital to receive medical care on credit. I couldn’t pay back until now and I can’t follow up on his condition because of that.”

Hakeem shared that families have lost almost all means of accessing food. Before COVID-19 hit, this was already a major challenge. Oxfam had previously been the sole organisation to provide food vouchers, cash, water and awareness campaigns in the area, but most of this work had to be cut due to a lack of funds and challenges accessing the area regularly due to the conflict and restrictions from authorities.

“Oxfam was providing us with food baskets first and then cash for food, and we were happy and able to provide food and other necessities for our families. But since Oxfam was forced to scale back its support, we have lost a helping hand and people are devastated.”

Now, with COVID-19 looming, even the ways families had adapted to find food to survive are no longer open to them.

“People used to go to markets to get food or find daily-wage work opportunities, beg in the streets or receive leftovers from nearby restaurants, but now they have lost that too.”

Families in this, and other areas, are very afraid to leave their communities to find food or seek medical care, for COVID-19 or any other ailments.

Hakeem conducting a session with the community on what causes Cholera, how to prevent it, identify symptoms and how it can be treated. Photo Credit: Haafedh Almattabi / Oxfam

I can’t eat while others starve

“People here are aware of the virus and how it has been killing many people around the world. They are terrified. They all think they could be infected, and they can’t afford to get sick or die. This means that they now only rely on the generosity of others who provide perhaps some bread.

“Our children are the most affected – they are starving! My child keeps crying all night. He needs milk and I can’t afford it. That breaks my heart. But when I have food, I share it with my neighbours, especially these days. We have bread and when we bake, I make sure I share it all. I can’t eat while others starve. This is what we do – we share what we have!

“All I can say is that we are doing our best and we are confident in God’s mercy. This doesn’t mean we don’t need help. We need it so bad and we need it now. The most urgent thing right now is food. We need water, hygiene kits, cash and awareness campaigns. People are losing hope and with COVID-19 spreading, I can only imagine it will get worse. No one wants that to happen. It’s not fair.”

Oxfam is rehabilitating the water supply to one of the main hospitals in the city of Aden, providing cash assistance to families affected by flooding in the south of the country, and training community health volunteers to provide information about coronavirus and the importance of hygiene and handwashing.

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It’s five years since war broke out in Yemen. I will never forget the terror in the eyes of my children.

Written by Manal, a humanitarian worker with Oxfam in Yemen.

When war first escalated in 2015, I was living happily with my family in Taiz city. It saddens me how the city I loved, the city that holds all my memories since I was a child turned into a ghost town full of death and fear overnight.

It all started with a blue spark that lit up the sky and invaded our houses and the rooms in which we silently hid. Then we heard the crack. That was the first missile to hit a building near us. After that, bombs fell everywhere; we thought we’d be next. We tried not to panic but panic was all we could feel.

Ruined houses destroyed by aerial bombardment in the city of Aden. Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

The next day myself and my children went to say goodbye to a friend who was taking a trip abroad. We could hear tanks in the streets nearby and the roads were blocked. We got trapped in her house, separated from our families who kept calling to check if we were okay. I will never forget the terror in the eyes of my children.

We were trapped inside the house for three days. I remember the heavy sounds of gun fire and tanks screeching just a few kilometres away. There was no one else with us so we managed to survive with the limited food we had.

“I still remember the fear, oppression and humiliation that day brought. I cried so hard, I cried and cried, all the way back. I was terrified.”

This day was sadly just a sign of what was to come – the feelings of fear, paralysis and vulnerability. Five years later, that feeling of being trapped is one that I and other Yemeni women constantly feel. But what I and others strive to do is fight that feeling and do all that we can to lead, to help others, and to feel hope that this conflict will end, and our lives can return to normal.

At one stage, everything calmed down and people started to feel safe. That was until six missiles hit a nearby mosque destroying it completely. Most of the injured were women and children. While a close relative of mine was helping to rescue the injured, another airstrike took his life. We didn’t even have time to mourn him properly.

We were just one family out of millions forced from our homes and all that home means – family, memories, security, history, love. As Yemenis, we have been forced to live in schools, tents, mosques or with other friends and relatives. The risk of experiencing violence, instability and illness has increased. We are all farther from our support networks and are forced to walk long distances for things like water, food or other resources. A life of displacement feels tenuous.

On the road to seek refuge, I would often close my eyes, allowing my memories to start play in my mind. I would be back with my family, as we gathered on Fridays at my grandfather’s house to eat lunch and then sing and dance with our neighbours until midnight.

I would remember how peaceful life was and how my friends and I had dreamed of the future. We loved adventure. We sometimes camped in nearby villages and mountains, enjoying nature together while sharing our hopes and memories.

All of that seems like a dream now. We still hope to go back home one day, where we belong and where our memories reside. It’s ironic how a single terrible memory of a blue glowing light can bring an end to warm memories.

Manal prepares cash transfers with her Oxfam colleagues. Photo: Oxfam

I now live with my mother, sister and two brothers. My father passed away over 15 years ago. I am the oldest and the only provider for my family. I love them and I try to take care of their needs the best I can. They are my only support in this world and to them I am the same.

As an Oxfam worker, it brings joy to my heart when I see how the aid that we provide helps people smile and brings them hope at a time of displacement and vulnerability.

I have seen a lot during these five years of war, particularly how hard it is for women to survive these circumstances. Many women have become the sole caregivers and breadwinners – a huge burden to bear.

Job opportunities are scarcer and prices have soared, while suffocating social restrictions on women remain. When you are a woman in a country like Yemen, war becomes more difficult with each passing day. The struggle to survive gets harder, especially for the many women who have been forced to depend on men all their lives without proper education or skills to fall back on.

I am sharing my story as one of countless women who deserve more than just recognition.  Women across Yemen are rising every day, doing all they can in difficult conditions to protect their families and their communities. With an education and a good job that fills me with pride, I am one of the lucky ones. Worst-case scenarios for women and girls in Yemen after five years of war includes surviving sexual violence, malnutrition, abuse, early marriage and sometimes death.

Women who fled the Tahiz region of Yemen are now living in a makeshift camp in the countryside. Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

The women of Yemen had no hand in this war. All decisions were and are still taken by men. Violence is being perpetrated by men. Women have the strength to act together – to step out of the crowded rooms where we feel vulnerable and paralysed, to lead our families, communities and country. For the days ahead, I call on women to have an equal voice in ending this war and paving the way for a peaceful future for Yemen.

Since the beginning of the conflict in 2015, Oxfam teams have reached more than 3 million people with much-needed sanitation services, clean water, cash assistance and food vouchers. Even as COVID-19 sweeps across the globe, our staff continues to deliver aid, comfort and hope to the people of Yemen. But we need all the help we can get.

Please give what you can today.

This World Water Day, we share what matters

Water is undeniably an essential part of life. For all of us, safe clean water is crucial for staying healthy. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to regularly wash our hands of any coronaviruses that may be lurking. When communities have access to it, they can instead focus on other things like educating their children, growing their small businesses, and building sustainable livelihoods. In other words, safe clean water is a vital building block for beating poverty.

This upcoming Sunday marks World Water Day, when the world comes together to celebrate the importance of freshwater. To mark this important date in the calendar, we wanted to share the latest update with you from the devastating crisis in Yemen, where millions of Yemenis face the triple threat of war, disease and hunger. The war in Yemen that began in 2015 has left over 22 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. Of these people, 17.6 million are in desperate need of food and 2.9 million people have been left homeless.

We’re on the ground working across the worst-affected areas in Yemen, trying to help communities survive this ongoing crisis.

In Al Radhah village, we’ve installed solar panels and 15,000 metres of water pipes to successfully build a solar pump system – a system which is now providing a clean safe water supply for more than 1,818 households in 15 neighbouring villages.

Credit: Sami M. Jassar/Oxfam
Credit: Sami M. Jassar/Oxfam
Credit: Sami M. Jassar/Oxfam
Credit: Sami M. Jassar/Oxfam

We’ve provided clean water and sanitation to more than one million people, including in hard-to-reach areas of the country, by trucking in water, repairing water systems, delivering filters and jerry cans, as well as building latrines and organising cleaning campaigns.

Along with 21 other NGOs, we’ve signed an open letter to the United Nations Security Council calling on its members to take action to bring about an immediate ceasefire in Yemen, end the humanitarian crisis and support the UN Special Envoy's efforts towards an inclusive political solution to the conflict.

This World Water Day, let’s come together to fight for the people of Yemen. You can help us reach more families by donating what you can today. Thank you.

Yemen: Still the world's worst humanitarian crisis

We’re only a little more than two weeks into 2020 but the bad news has come thick and fast. Devastating flooding in Jakarta. Catastrophic bushfires in Australia. Rising tensions between the US and Iran.

Every story is important. Every story deserves our attention.

But sometimes, the pace of breaking news is so fast that other, equally important stories be forgotten. Stories like the ongoing war in Yemen.

Nuha* lost her husband in the war. She and her eight children are surviving on support from aid agencies. Photo: Husam Al-Sharmani/YHMA

As the war enters its fifth year, the situation for the Yemeni people remains dire. More than 12,000 civilians have been killed and some 4 million people have had to flee their homes due to the bombing and fighting. Around 24 million people – 80 percent of the population – need emergency aid, while 10 million people are only one step away from famine.

The country’s economy has been shattered. Countless homes, warehouses, farms and vital parts of civilian infrastructure have been destroyed. Basic services, like health or water supply, have collapsed. The flow of food – nearly 90 percent of which had to be imported even before the conflict started – has been massively disrupted by the warring parties.

Prices are continuing to rise, while many of the poorest people have lost their incomes. Parents cannot afford to buy enough food, leaving 2 million children suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Around 350,000 of them are under the age of five.

Oxfam is supporting displaced families in this camp by providing clean water, hygiene kits and cash grants. Photo: Oxfam

What has been described by the United Nations as the world’s ‘worst’ humanitarian crisis has also resulted in one of the worst outbreaks of cholera in recent history. Between April 2017 and December 2018, there were over 1.3 million suspected cases and 2,760 associated deaths.There was an increase in suspected cases last year, according to the World Health Organisation, with over 696,500 suspected cases and 913 associated deaths recorded between January and the end of September.

What Oxfam is Doing

Since July 2015, we have helped more than 3 million people in nine governorates of Yemen with clean water and sanitation, cash assistance and food vouchers. We’ve also provided clean water and sanitation to more than one million people, including in hard-to-reach areas of the country, by trucking in water, repairing water systems, delivering filters and jerrycans, as well as building latrines. This included trucking in water to more than 5,000 displaced people living in camps in Khamer and Al Qafla in Amran governorate last year.

Time for G7 to End the War in Yemen

On 9 August 2018, a 500lb GBU-12 Paveway II laser guided bomb was dropped by the Royal Saudi Air Force on a school bus in Dahyan, Sa-ada Governorate of northern Yemen killing 40 boys aged between six and eleven. They were on a trip, excited, playing together, seemingly happy despite the war that has dominated their lives for over four years. [1] 11 adults were also killed. This brutal act was one of over 50 attacks on civilian vehicles recorded by Human Rights Watch in Yemen during 2018.[2,3]  
 
This is part of a pattern in four years of war where civilians have borne the brunt of the fighting. The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED)[4]  reports nearly 4,500 direct civilian targeting events resulting in approximately 11,700 reported civilian fatalities since March 2015. Over 8000 of those civilian casualties come from airstrikes launched by Saudi Arabia and its allies in the war on Houthi rebel forces.[5]  
 
And it’s not just the bombs. Imports of food, fuel and other goods have fallen because of the fighting. Access to food aid is difficult, and prices in markets have risen greatly because of the war. Save the Children estimated last year that 85,000 Yemeni children may have died of starvation since 2015 – far more than have been killed by guns or bombs.[6]  Cholera has killed over 2500 people in Yemen, and 58% of those victims were children.[7]  Clean water is barely available in Yemen as airstrikes have destroyed water purification and piping stems. These casualties are as much victims of the war as those killed directly by the fighting.
 
Being careless as to whether civilians are hurt by military action isa serious violation of International Humanitarian Law (IHL), and deliberately targeting civilians is a war crime, and western governments that back the Saudi-UAE-led Coalition say the Saudis are investigating such incidents. But by 2018, out of thousands of attacks, the Coalition Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT) created to investigate such bombings said it had looked at only 79.  [8]Worse, in 2015, the Coalition had declared Sa-ada, a city home to 100,000 civilians one giant military target, something that was raised before the UK Court of Appeal in the case relating to the illegality of UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia under the Arms Trade Treaty and UK law.
 
Destruction of civilian houses that were hit during airstrike raids in Sana’a. Photo Credit: Bassam Al-Thulaya / Oxfam Yemen
 
And that’s the crux of the matter. The G7 nations (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States) who meet this month sell tens billions of dollars’ worth of arms each year to Saudi coalition members. The US is the biggest supplier, with major coalition partners. 
 
Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt receiving some $19.5bn in arms deliveries from the US since 2015. [9]  The UK has licensed well over £5.3bn in arms sales to Saudi Arabia alone since 2015. Even a relatively small player like Canada sold CAN$1.2bn to Saudi Arabia in 2018, with a massive CAN$15bn contract for armoured vehicles pending. 
 
It’s not just the bombs, planes and other arms, The UK, through both Ministry of Defence and major contractor BAE Systems retains over 7000 personnel in Saudi Arabia, supporting and maintaining the Royal Saudi Air Force.[10]  Under contracts and agreements that date back to the 1980s, UK personnel maintain planes and support military operations. The government denies knowledge of what is going on, maintaining an arm’s length relationship despite years of war crimes committed by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. Since 2008 British personnel have not directly loaded bombs onto planes for combat operations, but oversee and support Saudi personnel to do this. They also service the planes which need continuous maintenance to remain operational. According to UK civil servants and BAE Systems personnel,  the coalition “, absolutely depend on BAE Systems” and, if the outside support stopped,  couldn’t continue the war after “seven to fourteen days”.  
 
So egregious are the breaches and violations of IHL that Germany (a partner with the UK in building Tornado and Typhoon aircraft used by Saudi Arabia) has withdrawn support for the export of spare parts to the Saudis. The highest Belgian court has ruled 20 arms export licences to Saudi Arabia illegal. The Italian Parliament has voted to stop sales to Saudi Arabia. The UK Court of Appeal has also ruled UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia illegal. 
 
The G7 nations claim to lead the world, they will undoubtedly deplore the continuing fighting and human suffering in Yemen. But the stark truth is that without them the war would have been over years ago. While they continue to fuel the conflict there is no chance that peace can prevail, and Yemenis of all ages will continue to the price of this with their lives.
 

[1] https://edition.cnn.com/2018/08/13/middleeast/yemen-children-school-bus-strike-intl/index.html

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/19/us-supplied-bomb-that-killed-40-children-school-bus-yemen

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/16/yemen-school-bus-bombing-one-of-50-strikes-on-civilian-vehicles-this-year

[4] See more detail at https://www.acleddata.com/?s=Yemen.

[5] https://www.acleddata.com/2019/06/18/press-release-yemen-war-death-toll-exceeds-90000-according-to-new-acled-data-for-2015/

[6] McKernan, Bethan (21 November 2018). "Yemen: up to 85,000 young children dead from starvation". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 November 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/21/yemen-young-children-dead-starvation-disease-save-the-children

[7] Federspiel F, Ali M (December 2018). "The cholera outbreak in Yemen: lessons learned and way forward". BMC Public Health (Review). 18 (1): 1338. doi:10.1186/s12889-018-6227-6. PMC 6278080. PMID 30514336

[8] https://theintercept.com/2018/08/24/yemen-airstrikes-saudi-us-coalition/

9 Figures from securityassistance.org

10 https://www.mikelewisresearch.com/RSAFfinal.pdf

Yemen War - 1000 Child Casualites in a Year

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