Armed conflict in Yemen: What happens in three years?

Armed conflict in Yemen: What happens in three years?

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Hind Abbas

In three years, so many things can happen in people’s lives. A child will start going to kindergarten, and some will get a bachelor’s degree. In three years, someone can meet the love of their life and get married; someone can start an enterprise and succeed. Imagine what change can happen in a country where education and health are the main focus. Imagine what change can happen to a country that is considered the poorest in the Middle East and exhausted by armed conflict.

March 2015: A shocking moment

March 26, 2015, was the day that changed the lives of millions of Yemenis. In less than three hours, there were aircrafts hovering in the sky. People were shocked by what was happening, hoping that when the sun came up, the nightmare would have ended. But three days passed and there was still fighting; then three weeks and three months passed and the armed conflict continued. On March 26, 2018, three years will have passed and the situation keeps deteriorating. Who can forget the pictures of hundreds of Yemenis around the world stuck in airports, not being able to return to their hometowns or families? Life was completely paralyzed: the streets empty, schools and universities closed. Airstrikes were intense and there was ground fighting in different cities and villages. In only one month, more than 1.8 million were forced to flee their homes, becoming internally displaced people within Yemen. A glimpse of hope came when the airport was reopened, and people were able to both come back and travel abroad for medical treatment, education, whatever else they needed. Students resumed school. But today, unfortunately, around 1. 9 million children are estimated to be out of school.

March 2016: Economic decline and airport closure

As the second year approached, people started to find coping mechanisms to help them survive the brutality and hardship of conflict. They learned how to sleep through the sound of airstrikes. They learned to put on a brave smile and hide their pain and struggles. While airstrikes continued and ground fighting spread throughout different areas in the country, the number of internally displaced people increased to 2.8 million, most of whom are women and children. And yet, there was more to come: The airport was closed in Sana’a and salaries stopped being paid.

When Sana’a airport was closed, it caused severe harm. According to the Ministry of Health, an estimated 10,000 Yemenis have died from critical health conditions, largely because they could not leave Yemen to access medical treatment abroad. It's difficult for people who suffer from critical health conditions to travel for 12 hours, get stopped at every checkpoint, just to be able to go to Aden airport to travel outside of Yemen. I remember the story of Amira, an old woman who wasn’t able to make the journey to fly out of Yemen because she has to carry her oxygen cylinder with her. Ali who wanted to travel to see his son and grandchildren and to seek medical care, but he died while waiting for the airport to open. These kinds of stories are too common. 

Cutting public-sector salaries has made a huge impact on the economy and public services. It's left approximately 1.2 million civil servants destitute and hungry,along with their spouses, children, and parents. Many wonder they'll be able to afford their next meal, and will there even be food or cooking gas? “We were happy with the little that we had, but now we have only bread to feed me and my eight children," says Ameena, whose family was dependent on her husband's salary.  Today, more than 8 million people are on the brink of famine. 

Year three: Diseases spread

As the war entered its third year, the humanitarian needs increased tremendously, from 14 million people at the conflict's outset to 22.2 million. Nearly three in every four people rely on humanitarian aid to survive. Dengue fever, malaria, diphtheria and cholera spread quickly. In May 2017, there was a huge cholera outbreak that reached 50,000 Yemenis in only three months. Yemenis will never forget the images we saw of crowded hospitals, the deaths of thousand people, and the risk of the disease spreading again, but will the world remember?

Year four: The unknown

As we approach the fourth year of fighting in Yemen, the country's future is in the hands of decision-makers, the parties to the conflict, and the international community. If the armed conflict continues, hunger, destruction, disease, and death will dominate, and this is what Yemen will be known for. Yemen deserves better.

Three years of destroyed infrastructure, starvation and spread of disease. Three years of humanitarian needs increasing enormously year after year. Any one of these crises should be enough to stop the armed conflict in Yemen. Peace will allow us to rebuild and improve our country. Peace has to take the place of destruction. Development and building have to take the place of starvation. Laughter and happiness and normalcy should take the place of the endless stories of sadness and destruction and death. Yemenis deserve more than this. Yemen deserves better.  

More than 20 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance in Yemen as armed conflict in the country enters its fourth year. CREDIT: ©Dia Aref Aladimi/CARE