Today marks the sixth anniversary of the war in Yemen, and the human toll is considerable: 233,000 people have died, more than half of them from indirect causes such as lack of food or healthcare. The country is now on the brink of famine.
Yemen is home to the world's worst humanitarian crisis. This year, 400,000 children under five years old could die of severe acute malnutrition if they do not receive urgent treatment.
More than 80% of the Yemeni population lives below the poverty line. The COVID-19 pandemic also weighs heavily on an already-struggling health system. Millions of civilians are trapped in poverty, hunger, and conflict.
This week, our teams reached out to residents and healthcare workers in the Al Hodeidah region, one of the areas hardest-hit by the conflict. We spent time with them to listen to their stories.
SUNDAY: BEAUTIFUL CHILDHOOD MEMORIES
It's Sunday morning and we are in Al Khawkhah, a district in the south of Al-Hodeidah governorate, once known for its lively fishing industry. Traces of conflict are visible - and war is part of everyday life here.
Today, the sun is shining brightly and it is very hot. Patients throng in and around the health center. Nearly half of the population here suffers from significant food insecurity and does not have enough food every day. This morning, we are in the Stabilization Center, where the children with the most severe and complicated cases of malnutrition are treated.
We meet Maimuna, a 21-year-old woman and her 8-month-old daughter. Despite the dire circumstances, Maimuna still finds reasons to laugh and the courage to share her story. Her little girl is on her sixth day of inpatient treatment and stays relatively calm, but her mother is all motion – bouncing her baby, feeding her baby, swinging her legs back and forth from the edge of the blue plastic hospital bed as she talks.
The doctor enters the room quietly, and hands a cup filled with therapeutic milk to Maimuna and another woman who shares the room. Therapeutic milk has become a routine, given to children every three hours to treat the deadliest forms of hunger.
Maimuna slowly feeds her daughter and shares with us:
“On my wedding day, fear was everywhere. You could hear the bombing and fighting all around. My siblings lived near the front lines, so they all had to flee and they still live in a camp for displaced people. When my daughter got sick, she couldn't move or cry. After only six or seven days of treatment, I can see that she is much better.”
Maimuna lives with her husband and three children in a small apartment. They settled there a few years ago and are determined to stay despite the conflict. On a night of heavy shelling at the start of the conflict, the windows were blown out and the family has not yet been able to have them replaced. Married young at the beginning of the war, she looks back fondly on her happy childhood with parents and her eight siblings.
“My favorite memory from before the war was sitting in the morning with my siblings, near our father. Now that he's older, he's losing his memory. I miss sitting with him and my brothers and sisters, learning from him.”
MONDAY: CHALLENGES FOR DISPLACED FAMILIES
Wakia and Faisal began their journey in their hometown of Taizz. After they lost access to water, they left to search for better living conditions. We meet with them in the afternoon to hear how they have overcome hardships and adjusted to life as a displaced family in Al Khawkhah.
“This year was difficult. At first, our daughter got sick and died shortly after. She was only 15 years old. We tried to find treatment in Aden, but there was nothing more we could do about it. We just had to watch her die,” Wakia tells us. We offer her what little comfort we can. These individual tragedies, which so often occur among the most vulnerable people, are the unwritten stories of conflict.
We ask about their family memories, and smiles return to their faces. Faisal immerses himself in remembering and shares stories: “The happiest memory was Eid. We could afford to buy gifts, new children's clothes and toys. We got together with the whole family: my mother, my father, my sisters and brothers, and all their children.”
TUESDAY: DOCTORS REMAIN ON THE FRONT LINES
We meet a doctor who works with Action Against Hunger. He tells us about his work, on condition of anonymity: “Most of the rooms here are small and poorly ventilated. Overcrowding is the main problem – sometimes I can't take a break, or catch my breath. You see the sun scorching outside, you can't tell women to wait outside. "
Health workers and nursing staff take care of patients in often difficult conditions. Health centers face a lack of equipment, bombings, and a large influx of patients.
In areas near the front lines, families often congregate in the same room during shelling. Thus respiratory diseases spread quickly within homes. Most of the women and children we see are anemic and have very low hemoglobin levels: “At first I didn't believe it, but after doing some tests we confirmed it was true. All pregnant women need a transfusion during their pregnancy. I had never seen this before."
Doctors and residents are tired, and widespread desperation is palpable among the people they serve. “I ask patients if we should visit them to see if their condition improves. They tell me: ‘we are here waiting for death’.”
Despite everything, the nursing staff try to reassure the patients and give them hope. Home visits and medical follow-ups are an important part of the interventions and help to establish the link with the families.
"I often tell patients, one day the war will end, and everyone will be back to normal life."
All of us at Action Against Hunger express deep gratitude to the people who had the courage to testify to their experiences and contribute to this chronicle.