Yemen: The story of a war-affected people, strong in the face of adversity

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A moving first-hand account of the effects of the terrible conflict Yemen has been suffering for the past few years, but a call to remain hopeful, however, that peace will arise after the war’s darkness. This entry posted by Sajjad Mohammad Sajid, Oxfam Yemen’s Country Director, on 12 June 2017.

As the sun rises, covering the rocky mountains with a coat of gold, we are welcomed to Yemen by fishermen and dolphins jumping out of the blue water.

After a 14-hour boat journey from Djibouti, the view of Aden city in the early morning was a magical sight. At first, life in the city looked normal: road dividers were freshly painted, people were chatting while sipping red tea or having breakfast in small restaurants, youth were playing pool in the streets, and taxis were shouting to collect their passengers. However, as we moved in the city, buildings riddled with bullet holes appeared, several residential areas and hotels had their roof collapsed, and cars were waiting in long queues for petrol.

This tableau of contrasts was telling the story of Aden.

The second day after our arrival, we travelled to Lahj with the Aden team. Our conversation kept switching between the work Oxfam does in Aden and other Southern governorates, and the destruction passing before our eyes, a terrible witness of the conflict Yemen has been suffering for the past few years.

Oxfam is there

In such a volatile and insecure environment, Oxfam continues to provide water, improved sanitation and basic hygiene assistance to more than 130,000 affected individuals in Lahj governorate. The team sometimes travels for more than two to three hours to reach the target location. Community engagement is thus key to deliver assistance. Our staff along with community based volunteers consults affected community as well as key leaders to identify the intervention. The affected community not only participates in water supply, sanitation and hygiene promotion activities, but also works closely with host communities to ensure that social harmony is maintained.  

In Lahj, the focus is to rebuild the water supply system to help both displaced persons as well as local communities, and Oxfam works with the local water and sanitation authority to ensure the sustainability and viability of the rehabilitated system. Displaced people in these areas used to collect water only once in a week because of the long distances they had to walk to reach the wells. Now, both IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) and host communities can access water on daily basis.

Meeting community members made clear that war has impacted everyone, and they all share their grief and pain and support each other. The strong bonding between displaced people and host communities despite their high level of hardship also indicates that Yemeni people have come a long way through several wars and conflict and are therefore more resilient.

Water tank built by Oxfam in Al-Jalilah village, in Al-Dhale governorate. Credit: Omar Algunaid/Oxfam, March 2017

Hunger is rampant

The impact of war and conflict in Aden and surrounding governorates is very high. More than two million people were affected since the beginning of the crisis. Food insecurity in Lahj, Abyan and Al Dhale is rising and remain among the governorates in Yemen with high food assistance need.

The tragedy and suffering of Abdullah, a 70-year-old man who had to flee Abyan during the peak of the war, speaks for itself. However, he does believe that peace will return back to Yemen, but to survive, he had to mortgage his pension card to feed his family. There are many invisible people like him who probably would like to see peace come back to Yemen so their impoverished lives can improve.

Displacement crisis

Tough host communities initially provided spaces to displaced persons, but in addition now, displaced people have started settling down in barren land areas on their own. Those who managed to return back to their original location are now severely impacted by a cholera outbreak. Lack of provision of salaries to government employees have further added burden to the households who host displaced families. Water, food assistance and healthcare remain the top three priorities. Hardship has reached to a threshold where affected people are willing to mortgage anything and everything they can. Basic services and utilities including water, education and health have been halted to a greater extent and therefore increasing stress on affected communities.

Oxfam Yemen Country Director, Sajjad Mohammad Sajid, visits the pumping room in Al-Roweed village, as part of the water project Oxfam implemented in the area. Credit: Omar Algunaid/Oxfam

Fighting cholera

Saleema* is community health volunteer who works with Oxfam and is a true agent for change. She raises awareness with the affected communities on the importance of clean and safe water.  She visits houses and speaks to women, elders and young girls to ensure key health messages are understood and applied. Increasing numbers of youth, such as Saleema, support affected communities to rebuild their lives and to help build social cohesion. 

Last year when a cholera outbreak was declared in Yemen, Aden was one of the governorates among others like Al-Hudaydah where most suspected cases were registered.

Resilience in the face of darkness
 
As we returned from Lahj, the smell and taste of Mindi (local chicken meal with rice) and mouth watering local paratha (wheat based chapati) reminded us that that Yemeni people’s resilience had also stood strong in the face of adversity.

As the Apollo boat finally departed Aden after sunset, with the noise of waves gushing in and the dark smudging in, we remembered that a beautiful sunrise would welcome us upon arrival, in a similar way that humanitarian needs in Aden and surrounding governorates continue to grow. We remain hopeful, however, that peace will arise after the war’s darkness.

This entry posted by Sajjad Mohammad Sajid, Oxfam Yemen’s Country Director, on 12 June 2017.
*Name changed to protect identity.

Yemen is in the grip of a runaway cholera epidemic that is killing one person nearly every hour and if not contained will threaten the lives of thousands of people in the coming months. We're calling for a massive aid effort and an immediate ceasefire to allow health and aid workers to tackle the outbreak.

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Photos:

  • Ghodrah and Taqeyah fill their jerrycans from the Oxfam water distribution point in Al-Dukm village, Lahj governorate. Credit: Omar Algunaid/Oxfam, April 2017
  • Water tank built by Oxfam in Al-Jalilah village, in Al-Dhale governorate. Credit: Omar Algunaid/Oxfam, March 2017
  • Oxfam Yemen Country Director, Sajjad Mohammad Sajid, visits the pumping room in Al-Roweed village, as part of the water project Oxfam implemented in the area. Also there, Al-Melah district Manager and members of the water management committee. Credit: Omar Algunaid/Oxfam, February 2017