Yemen – The crisis the world forgot
Small talk can be difficult with someone who lives in Yemen.
Questions about family often turn to dead relatives.
Talk about a bad night’s sleep and you might find yourself in a conversation about nightly bombing raids.
Such was the case last month in Jordan, when I ran into an old friend and colleague, Bushra Aldukhainah.
She is a provincial manager for CARE’s emergency response in Yemen, and it didn’t take long for our conversation to turn to the trauma of daily life in a country gripped by a brutal civil war.
She told me about sleepless nights due to bombing raids. About family members killed in the fighting. About the half a million children on the brink of starvation. All of these ongoing horrors, yet these stories are barely registering on the global agenda.
Yemen, just south of Saudi Arabia, is one of the poorest countries in the Middle East. Even before the current conflict, it depended on imports for 70 per cent of its fuel, 80 per cent of its food and 100 per cent of its medicine. With its ports and airports closed by a military blockade, very little of anything is available to civilians now. Before the war, more than 10 million Yemenis were going hungry, now many are facing severe food shortages.
These numbers should be shocking. But the sad reality is they are easy to ignore.
Yemen has a population of 24 million. There are 21 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.
That’s more people who need help than in Syria and South Sudan combined. In just six months, almost 6,000 people have been killed in the conflict, a further 26,000 injured.
To make matters worse, the Yemenis are trapped. The borders of Saudi Arabia to the north are closed and heavily defended, and to get to Oman in the east, Yeminis have to cross a huge desert. The only other option is a perilous journey across the sea to Eritrea or Somalia.
The history behind the civil war is complicated. What matters now is the effect it is having on the innocent victims, Yemeni civilians.
The United Nations (UN) estimates the number of children under five at risk of starvation in Yemen has tripled in 2015. More than half a million children are now not far from death. That figure was 160,000 before the conflict.
I was recently in Jordan to assist with CARE’s response to the conflict.
There, I got to talk to aid workers like my friend Bushra who are determined to ensure the humanitarian response does not stop, despite the risks involved.
Bushra’s team has been distributing emergency food and water, when aid deliveries are possible, and has been working to restore water sources.
These things are taken for granted in most other countries. In Yemen, they are in extremely short supply.
But amid these stories of despair Bushra did have some good news.
She told me about Khairia, a woman who started volunteering for CARE after her home was destroyed by airstrikes. For cultural reasons, Khairia had never had a job outside the home. But through her work with CARE, Khairia became a leader in her community and was able to help them gain better representation at local meetings and aid distributions.
It’s examples like this that remind us of the importance of focusing on women’s needs, and the benefit it can bring to the whole community.
But, for organisations like CARE to continue to help Yemenis who are suffering, more funding is desperately needed.
The UN’s appeal for Yemen is less than half funded. This must change.
We also need the media to help increase the visibility of the conflict, which could generate public support and political pressure for a resolution.
Now back home in Australia, I can’t help but think of women like Bushra and Khairia, and all of those in Yemen who feel the world has forgotten them.
All I can do is bring their voices here and hopefully shine a light on this crisis.
It took a photograph of a lifeless young boy washed up on a beach in Turkey to wake up the world to the crisis in Syria.
Let’s not wait for further tragedy before we care about Yemen.
Isadora Quay is a Gender in Emergencies Specialist with CARE International