Wednesday 15 April 2015
The situation in Yemen has escalated to such a point that we need a total rethink of how we distribute aid in the country. There are many people in desperate need but it’s dangerous for aid workers to deliver support and it’s dangerous for people to go in search of that support. We have to distribute food as quickly as possible in a way that minimises risk to all concerned.
Yemen hit a new low earlier this month when displaced people sheltering in the al-Mazraq camp in the north of the country were hit by air strikes. More than two dozen people were killed and 37 people, including 12 children, were injured.
It soon became clear that we couldn’t distribute food in the normal way, with people gathering en masse at food distribution points to pick up their aid packages.
For a while Islamic Relief had to suspend all aid distributions but now we have resumed our efforts in a new way.
Our staff members now go into communities, identify the ones most in need, give them a food coupon and then nominate one person to go and pick up the food for everyone. This means that fewer people have to move around and there are no large gatherings that could become civilian targets.
But even this approach is not without its challenges. We’re struggling to convince truck drivers to deliver the food as there has been a spate of attacks on distribution trucks. One convoy was attacked travelling from Sana’a to Dhamar and another one travelling from Al Hudaydah to Taizz.
The drivers are understandably scared of coming under fire, and also of being hijacked as food is now so scarce.
Another major challenge is the lack of fuel. We had plenty of vehicles that ran on petrol but that has now run out and we’ve had to get different vehicles that are able to run on cooking gas. But now that is running out too. One of our team members is currently waiting in a long queue at a petrol station.
We’ve had to develop a contingency plan in case the gas does run out. Our staff will have to travel on public transport to the towns and cities and then go by foot, wherever it is safe to do so. Obviously this is far from ideal.
For as long as I can remember we have always had problems of poverty, marginalisation and inequality in Yemen. Even before this recent crisis, over 60 per cent of the population were in need of humanitarian assistance, but now everyone is affected. Even the richer people are suffering as there is no food for them to buy in the shops.
Everybody is desperately worried about the future. Community members tell me our emergency food rations are a life-saver, but what happens when they run out?
If the violence continues, lots of children will be killed. If they are not killed by bombs and bullets, they will be killed by a lack of food.
Even I am struggling to get food for my family. The shop where I normally get my food from has run out of essential foods like flour, so the customers have had to register for the food they need and we are now on a waiting list.
As bad as the situation is in Sana’a where I am based, this is nothing compared to the situation in Aden. Our staff on the ground there say that there are huge numbers of people with no help whatsoever. One group of displaced people are sheltering in a school and the people living nearby are collecting money and food to help them. Some of these people are government employees who haven’t been paid for over a month.
We are working hard to get food and medical supplies through to Aden, negotiating with the different parties now in charge, and hopefully this will bear fruit soon.
This is the worst situation I have ever experienced in Yemen, but it’s clear that it’s going to get much worse if the fighting doesn’t stop soon. With no fuel, no electricity, no food, no water, how are we going to survive?
I have three children (aged five, three and six months old) and I worry about providing for them. I also worry about their long-term future. I see a lot of children with guns, with no education and in poor health. Children need a good start in life. They need to feel protected and safe and healthy. And they need a good education to prepare themselves for life.
My family have moved to Dhamar, where I was born, as it is safer than Sana’a. I can’t get to see them as much as I would like because of the lack of fuel and the security situation. We rely on the phone, but even that is becoming more difficult. An electricity station was attacked yesterday and there was no electricity in the whole of the country. I wasn’t able to speak to my wife, as she wasn’t able to charge her phone.
Our staff don’t feel safe in Sana’a. The air strikes can occur in the middle of the day, then the anti-aircraft fire begins, and bullets and bombs are flying overhead.
We distributed some food to a school yesterday just outside Sana’a city and the air strikes started. The staff and community members had to wait inside a classroom for about an hour before it was safe to leave.
It is a very dangerous job, but we have a commitment to these people. We know what the aid means to them, so we have to carry on. It’s also natural for us as Muslims. We have to help other people, especially those more unfortunate than ourselves.
Mohammed Waseem is an assumed name