Bushra Aldukhainah, a humanitarian coordinator for CARE — an organization fighting to end global poverty — was forced to flee her home in Haradh, Yemen, during the summer of 2015 when a nearby camp for internally displaced citizens was pummeled by heavy airstrikes. Aldukhainah had often visited the camp, which provided basic refuge to some of Yemen’s 3.11 million internally displaced, and knew some of its inhabitants well. Nothing then could have prepared her for the images that emerged from the camp following its bombardment. In an interview with Women in the World, Aldukhainah spoke of how she had been sent pictures of the destroyed camp shortly after the attack. “You cannot imagine how painful these pictures were to see” she said “I was crying like a baby when I saw [them].”
The images, which depicted the bodies of mothers, fathers and children ripped to pieces, blood everywhere, would become an early indication of the devastation that was to be wrought upon the already battle-worn country. Since 2004, Houthi rebels have been locked in an on-and-off battle with the Yemeni government, confined in the most part to Yemen’s impoverished Saada province. This changed in September 2014 when the Houthis overtook Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, and began pushing south toward the country’s second biggest city, Aden. In 2015, a coalition of Arab states launched a military counter-attack in retaliation, seeking to reassert Yemen’s government. The bitter and bloody war that has ensued since has claimed the lives of an estimated 10,000 civilians, injuring some 40,000 overall, says the U.N., and precipitating one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.
Aldukhainah is among the millions who have been forced to flee their home since the fighting ratcheted up. The day after the IDP camp was destroyed, a site closer to her home was hit and she received a call informing her that more airstrikes were expected and advising she take her family and leave the city immediately. Certain they would soon return they left that night with nothing but some clothes and a few bare essentials.
More than a year and a half has passed and they have little hope of going back. “The city is a ghost city now,” Aldukhainah explained. “It has been totally destroyed … not even dogs and cats live there anymore.” Even those who were once rich have now been left with nothing, forced to sell any valuables they managed to take with them as they fled to pay for food and rent.
“Even those who are employed no longer receive salaries” Aldukhainah said. “Everything has just collapsed. And the prices have soared.” According to Trade Economics, the unemployment rate in Yemen is forecast to reach 35 percent by the end of this quarter, up from around 15 percent in 2008.
And while the war-driven economic crisis worsens, with GDP growth having plummeted from 8.2 percent in 1992 to -28.1 percent in 2015, the scale of the humanitarian crisis continues to escalate with devastating results. Some 14 million people are currently food insecure in Yemen, including 2.2 million children who are acutely malnourished, and almost half a million who are suffering from severe acute malnutrition. As fighting continues along the Western Coast, the flow of life-saving commodities, including food, is severely limited, worsening the already dire humanitarian situation.
Jamie McGoldrick, the U.N.’s humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, has warned that the combination of rising food and fuel prices; food shortages; civilians’ reduced purchasing power and the fact the country is 80-90 percent dependent on imported food staples, risks plunging the country into a full-blown famine within the year.
Yet despite 80 percent of the population being now in need of aid, there remains little sign of the conflict abating. “We are close to two years since the war started,” Aldukhainah said “and we don’t see any visible solution. For certain parties involved it is simply not in their interest for the war to be over.”
One of the biggest misconceptions that remains around the refugee crisis unfolding there is, she said, that the 3.11 million internally displaced people are in camps. “This is not true! People are just spread out everywhere. The displaced are in urban communities and people just take them in as much as they can.” And people have now largely given up hope of finding safety. When airstrikes fell previously people would quickly relocate to another area, only to find themselves subject to attack all over again. Eventually they grew tired of moving and the mindset changed to “let’s just face our destiny … we will die whether we stay here or not.”
“Even before the crisis Yemen was in a really bad position … now the war has worsened the situation. This absolutely feels like the forgotten war,” Aldukhainah concluded.
She is not wrong. Where the horror unfolding in Syria has long dominated daily news headlines, the extent of the devastation occurring in Yemen is too often overlooked. But with a humanitarian plan that is only 6.3 percent funded, leaving a funding gap of $1.9 billion, Yemen cannot afford for the war-weary world to turn away.