When she heard airstrikes were headed to her neighborhood in Yemen, Bushra Aldukhainah woke up her husband and son early and fled her home. “I cannot forget that day, that feeling, the bitter feeling of leaving home behind, leaving everything behind,” she said Friday at the Women in the World Summit in New York. “My son was saying, ‘Mommy, can I take my toys with me?’ I said, ‘I don’t think there’s time. Let’s just run for our life.’”
Aldukhainah, an area manager for CARE Yemen, joined Yemeni journalist Afrah Nasser, the founder of online magazine Sana’a Review, to discuss the country’s raging civil war, which the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. More than 2 million people have been forced from their homes, and more than 20 million are in desperate need of aid, with many starving or suffering from cholera or other diseases. The two women told foreign-policy expert Rula Jebreal that the world needs to wake up to the crisis.
“We were never able to come back,” Aldukhainah said, describing the day she fled her home. “Millions of people were never able to come back to their homes.” She was later displaced again: While she was staying with her sister, airstrikes killed two family members. “I had to witness—my son had to witness—this,” she said. Later, when airstrikes shook a hotel where her family was staying, her son implored, “Mommy, go and save Yemen.”
The civil war started in 2014, when Houthi rebels from the north, dissatisfied with the government after the Arab Spring, stormed Sana’a, the capital. In 2015, a Saudi-led coalition began bombing the rebels in an attempt to restore the government. The country has been in chaos ever since.
“Death is everywhere,” said Nasser. “If the airstrikes don’t kill you, the lack of food and the cholera and the diseases will definitely kill you. At the same time, there is raging civil war on the ground—Yemen is literally under fire from multiple fronts.”
She continued, “Yemenis know that the weapons falling on them are American-made. What’s happening in Yemen is being assisted by Western powers that are allies to the Saudi coalition. Considering that it’s the largest—the worst—humanitarian crisis in the world today, it’s not getting enough media attention.”
“It’s a forgotten war that nobody is talking about,” said Aldukhainah, who suffered from a bout of dengue fever that she feared would kill her. “Nobody knows what’s going on in Yemen. We’re talking about death of men and women and innocent children … they just woke up to find themselves without any basic services of life—food, shelter.”
She added that if all the money spent on weapons had been used instead to care for the sick and starving people of Yemen, “what remarkable change we would have done.”
“More and more Americans need to speak out against war in Yemen,” Nasser said. “I’m inspired by the antiwar movement in the U.S. during the Vietnam war. You could bring peace to Yemen if you speak out and write to your representatives. Why are people living in famine? Why live through diseases that are supposed to be left in history?” She concluded, “Women can make a difference. This is what women are born for.”
Watch highlights and the full video of the conversation at the top of this story.
Additional reporting by Marion Bradford.