Published in Kuwait by: Rai Institute
Sana’a: The current war in Yemen is on the cusp of its second year. The roots of this war arguably predates the official ‘start date’ of March 2015, and situating this war’s beginnings tends to rely on where one’s ideological positions lay. Yet, regardless of one’s positions, what is abundantly clear, and should not be in dispute, is the great costs on the Yemeni civilians. More than 10,000 people are estimated to have died, with hundreds of thousands others who have been injured, maimed for life, or have been displaced from their homes.
The Yemeni population’s needs are great and the international community has utterly failed them.
This is an undeniable, glaring fact apparent to anyone who has been in Yemen.
The devastation of war has marked many parts of the country such as the north in the Saadah governorate, the city of Taiz in the south, or elsewhere where all armed actors — without exception — have harmed civilians and destroyed infrastructure.
The ramifications of the conflict have pierced all aspects of day-to-day life in the country. Its lifelines – the medical infrastructure, water, electricity, economy, transportation, to name only a few – already weakened by decades of neglect and corruption, are on the cusp of a major collapse. Absolute catastrophe has only been averted by the modest work of the few international NGOs able to operate in the country, but calamity has mainly been held at bay by the stubborn dedication and perseverance of the Yemeni people, who are determined to keep the country functioning as best they can.
The experience and work of one of these international NGOs offers us a sobering glimpse into the problems afflicting this old country. The medical organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) started working intermittently in Yemen in 1986, and has been operating continually there since 2007. It has rapidly scaled up its activities in response to the eruption of all-out war and humanitarian disaster in mid-2015. MSF works in the north and south of the country, in 8 out of the 22 Yemeni governorates, on an array of issues that range from providing direct medical services such as complex surgeries and pediatric care to offering support in the form of financial incentives and/or training for the Yemeni Ministry of Health’s staff, as well as providing essential medical supplies like blood bags to blood banks.
The numbers recorded by MSF between March 2015 to September 2016 reflect the staggering scale of challenges facing Yemen: 289,574 patients received in emergency rooms; 127,304 outpatient general consultations conducted; 24,326 surgeries performed; 51,048 war and violence wounded victims treated; 19,868 deliveries performed; 19,862 children admitted to pediatric care for non-war related reasons; and more than 1,760 tons of medical supplies sent by MSF. MSF projects unfold across the frontlines of battles, and sometimes this has come with great risk. MSF health facilities alone were hit four times in the past year, some of these attacks resulted in the loss of life for both patients and staff, and ended imperative free health care for thousands of people.
This is incomparable to the challenges faced by Yemeni people daily, in which they commonly experience away from the fickle media spotlight, and the spotlight only pays scant attention when an impossible-to-ignore incident or significant situation arises. The Yemeni population barely has the necessary income to scrape together a decent life; there is little electricity, clean running water, access to free health care; there are airstrikes, artillery shelling, bullets, car bombs; forced displacement and sieges; there are restrictions on travel and limited places to escape; there is an overwhelming fear of what an unknown future holds.
The international community has simply not done enough to help the Yemeni population and there is plenty to do.
The most rudimentary act is to search for and listen to the Yemeni experience. The most complicated involves shoring up and helping Yemenis through funds, supplies, ease of restrictions, opening of opportunities, among many other initiatives; while the most profound act involves ending this war that has taken a massive toll on all Yemenis.
Like Syria, Palestine, or elsewhere, for the Yemenis, we in positions of comfort and privilege owe it to the people to do what we can to help, and we should have done so already.
**Yazan al-Saadi works with MSF’s regional Beirut Communications Team as Creative Content and Special Projects Manager. He was dispatched to Yemen for more than two weeks to provide backup and support for MSF’s communications team in Sana’a.
**Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is an international, independent, medical humanitarian organization that delivers emergency aid to people affected by armed conflict, epidemics, natural disasters, and exclusion from health care. MSF offers assistance to people based on need, irrespective of race, religion, gender, or political affiliation.