Yemeni civilians pay price of war

As a Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen heads towards its third week and fighting across the country intensifies, humanitarian agencies are increasingly unable to provide aid, while food and water prices are spiking. Civilians caught up in the conflict are struggling to survive.

Many, like 56-year-old Mansour Al-Hamedi, have fled the capital Sana’a and other big cities for their home villages.

He told IRIN by phone from the village of The’elan in Sana’a governorate that his family was almost out of food. Jobless since the air strikes began, he has no money to buy more.

“We have run out of flour, rice and sugar,” he said. “Our neighbours only lent us some on condition we return the [favour] later.”

Thirty-six-year-old Jamal Noaman and his family are currently staying with cousins, 15 kilometres from the nearest source of water. With their last savings they are paying $37 for a tank of water to get them through the coming days. There is almost no petrol left in many parts of the country, and the nearest healthcare centre is 25 kilometres away.

“So far no one in my family has needed to go to the health centre,” he said. “But if something happened it will be very difficult and expensive to take them to the doctor.”

For those Yemenis originally from Sana’a and other war-torn cities – that is, with no home village to flee to - the options are even grimmer. Om Hasan, 42, said she had no relatives anywhere outside Sana’a, so she and her family were sleeping in tents in the As-Ser area in the Bani Hushaish district of Sana’a governorate.

“I have no other solution, neither the state nor the international NGOs [have supported us]. To stay under the rain is better than staying under airstrikes,” she said between tears.

“Here we don’t have enough food, or a source of drinking water, but [at least] we are away from the Saudi airstrikes.”

Saudi Arabia and allied states began bombing Yemen on 26 March in a bid to force Houthi rebels to give up the power they claimed late last year. The Iranian-backed Houthis, however, have continued their advances in many cities.

While Iran has called for the formation of a new government, Saudi Arabia is determined to see the deposed President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi reinstated. So far, calls for negotiations have fallen on deaf ears and the fighting looks likely to continue in the coming days.

Amid unpredictable violence, aid agencies admit they can’t get to the people they need, while the vast majority of their foreign staff have been evacuated. Most of the displaced people IRIN spoke to said they had not received any aid either from the state or the international NGOs.

“No one has visited us or even asked about [aid] because, as you know, there is no government currently and all the effective NGOs have left the country,” Mohammed Al-Najjar, 57, said.

Mohammed Harmal from the Executive Unit for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) – a government body working with local and international NGOs - said that in the southern Abyan province, for example, the amount of aid provided covered between two and five percent of needs. “We could not distribute aid or even count the IDPs due to the constant airstrikes,” he said.

The World Food Programme and the UN's refugee agency, UNHCR, confirmed they had very limited ability to reach people in many areas.

“We depend on the local organizations to provide us with statistics and they face the same problems in doing evaluations and distributing aid,” Mujeeb Hasan, senior public information assistant at UNHCR said, adding that the agency hoped to start working on a full assessment in the coming days.

Lasting impacts

Even for those with enough food and water for now, the fighting will have long-term impacts, not least on education.

Exam season is looming, but thousands of Yemeni children are unlikely to sit any this year. Many schools in the cities are closed, while those in the countryside are overloaded.

Al-Najjar said he is unable to send his son, Ahmed, to his secondary school in Sana’a because it is closed. “I am very concerned about him, he will lose one year now,” Al-Najjar said.

Hasan Ali Mohsen, 43, told IRIN by phone that his daughter cannot go to the school in the rural region they have fled to as there is no secondary school for girls in the village.