“Like the living dead”: Yemenis' tragic struggle during grinding war

Published April 20th, 2017 - 12:00 GMT
A Yemeni militiaman loyal to the Saudi-backed President, Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, during clashes with Houthi rebels in Taiz, April 16 2017. (AFP/Ahmad al-Basha)
A Yemeni militiaman loyal to the Saudi-backed President, Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, during clashes with Houthi rebels in Taiz, April 16 2017. (AFP/Ahmad al-Basha)

Regardless of whether they live in government- or rebel-controlled territory, Yemenis suffering through the country's war complain about severe shortages of food, education and health care. Few of them see much hope for improvement in the near future.

"We are here like the living dead. We go to sleep not knowing if we will live until tomorrow,” says Um Saeed, a Yemeni woman living in the south-western province of Taiz.

Like many other women in the Bilad al-Wafi area, Um Saeed has to trek at least four hours through the mountains to get basic commodities from neighbouring towns because of a siege imposed on her home town by Houthi rebels. The siege has been in place for three months now.

"A stifling siege, destruction and a difficult humanitarian situation” are the words the mother of five uses to describe her life more than two years into the war in the impoverished country.

Yemen is locked in a conflict between the Saudi-backed government and Iran-allied rebels, who seized the capital Sana'a and surrounding areas in late 2014.

The conflict has intensified since March 2015, when Saudi Arabia and Sunni allies began an air campaign against the mostly Shiite rebels in Yemen.

"The war destroyed everything: houses, hospitals and schools," Um Saeed told dpa.

"We no longer have anything to survive the current situation except our faith in God. We lost dear people. We lost our salaries. We lost our freedom and our right to live in peace."

The United Nations said that nearly 19 million Yemenis – more than two-thirds of the population – need humanitarian assistance. It has also warned that 7 million children have no access to health care.

An outbreak of cholera and acute watery diarrhoea in October 2016 continues to spread, with more than 22,500 suspected cases and 106 deaths in the country.

"We cannot use the main roads. So we make our way through these high mountains to bring food from neighbouring villages," Um Saeed says.

'Um Saeed' is Arabic for 'the mother of Saeed.' Mothers in conservative Arab areas are usually known by the names of their elder children. For conservatives, it is socially frowned on to call a woman by her name.

"Even when one of us gets sick, we have to travel long distances to find a health centre. Many have lost their lives because their families could not save them,” she adds, while walking with other women, all of them are carrying bags of staples on their heads.

She is one of millions of Yemenis caught in the ongoing war. 

More than 4,667 civilians had been killed in Yemen and at least 3 million people have been forced to flee their homes as of February, according to London-based Amnesty International, which monitors human rights violations.

The United Nations describes Yemen as the world's largest humanitarian crisis and is planning a conference in Geneva on Tuesday to raise funding for life-saving assistance to the war-wracked country.

Ahmed Mahdi decided to escape the destruction in his home district of Haradh. He took his nine-member family to the capital.

But things only got worse for Mahdi. With no work available, he started begging to support his family.

"We fled for fear of dying under the shelling. Today we are afraid we could die of hunger,” Mahdi says.

The Houthi-controlled provinces of Hodeidah and Ibb are among the worst-affected, with reports indicating a famine outbreak. Many people there suffer from acute malnutrition. Many children have died.

But nowhere is truly safe. Even in relatively more peaceful government-controlled areas, there is no money and jobs are few.

In September, President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi ordered the relocation of the central bank from Sana'a to the southern city of Aden, the seat of his government, in order to put pressure on the Houthis.

But that had the side effect of short-circuiting the economy.

“I have not been able to find any work, even for little money,” says Abdullah Abdul Jalil, 35, who lives in Sana’a.

Unable to pay his rent, Abdul Jalil told dpa that he was forced to borrow money in order to support his wife and three children.

According to UNICEF, 80 per cent of families are borrowing money just to feed their children while every second person in the country lives on less than 2 dollars a day.

Another government employee, Abu Mohammed, used to work for the Interior Ministry in Sana'a. Now, he has been selling his possessions and furniture to survive.

"We want to live in a war-free country," Abu Mohammed says. "We do not seek a luxurious life, only a shelter, peace and to return to work."

Amal Al-Yarisi

© 2022 dpa GmbH

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