The reasons for this blog are two fold. Firstly, I want to offer a site that can assist journalists and researchers by posting facts that they can quickly access, and also for people who just want to find out more about the Yemen war.
Secondly, it is because I care about Yemen, and by showing how the war effects ordinary people’s lives, I hope the fighting forces will be held to account and not be ale to act with impunity as they are now – the Saudi high tech weapons, and the low tech weapons of the active militias.
I hope that you will bear with me. Writing this means learning a whole new set of skills. But whilst I am learning, bringing focus on the Yemeni situation will I hope help some individuals to understand both the effects of war, and the courageous Yemeni people living with it.
I first went to work in Yemen in 1998; I managed the refugee health project in Sana’a. I fell in love with the country. In many ways, it was like returning to the land of my childhood, I was born in Post-War Britain at the end of the Second World War, into a slum in the industrial West Midlands, or the Black Country. Society was divided by gender, the women supporting each other, and socialising together. It was a society ruled by stigma – such as the gossip and disapproval when women bus conductors first wore trousers. A society that offered loving help if someone was on hard times. Even the British women of my childhood covered their hair with a large turban, and covered their clothes with a large overall every day. That society no longer exists in UK, but I found it in Yemen.
And more strangely, as I fell in love with Yemen, Yemen fell in love with me. I have visited Yemen almost every year since I left in 2001, and I loved being pulled into the maelstrom of Yemeni society just the minute I arrived, with people making it sound as if they had not enjoyed life so much whilst I was away – immediately called to see children show off their new roller skating antics, helping my friends by reading their important English language letters, being swept along to parties and outings and weddings. But of course, this hospitality towards visitors has long been a tradition in Yemen, from which I benefitted.
When I was there, I witnessed the Gulf Returnees in their camp in Hodeida; you can read their story on this site. I was shocked that the world had not reported it. It led me to complete a PhD in Arab and Islamic Studies in Exeter, where I researched the influences behind Arab imagery in the British media. But what I hadn’t ever expected was that a war of the size and scale of the one that I am now hearing about now could be largely ignored. I have been told by observers of war that the damage in Yemen in the first 6 weeks was greater than the amount of damage done in Syria in 4 years.
Everyone I speak to in Yemen is displaced themselves, or housing displaced people, who are also living in schools, empty public buildings, and even drains and in the open roads. Everything has stopped – no industries are working. People are not only dying from the conflict, but from dehydration, starvation, and disease.
Few seem to be critical of the extensive bombing campaign by the Saudi air force, its military aircraft purchased from UK. Saudi has bombed some cities to the point where they no longer exist. They have also bombed schools, hospitals, mosques, airports, ports, a main water tank, a water lorry, bridges, a refugee camp, museums, and so many historic sites, including two UNESCO world heritage sites, Qahira Citadel in Taiz, and The Old City, Sana’a, treasures which the world can no longer enjoy.
Militias are also creating havoc – the Houthis are being brutal in the south west, and the Islah militias, funded by Saudi Arabia, are now operating as the Islamic State. Al Qaeda controls east Yemen, where most of the displaced people are heading. Little humanitarian aid has been delivered; people have scant electricity, no cooking fuel, food is in very short supply and expensive. There is an acute shortage of petrol, no medicines and medical supplies, including contraception. No hospital beds are available. Few schools are operating. But worst of all, severe problems with the water supply throughout all of the west side of Yemen, and shortages in the East.
People are dying from this man-made disaster. And no-one is offering Yemenis refugee status. Today, the UN states that it needs $1.6 billion for humanitarian aid and few countries have offered anything, except Saudi Arabia that offered $274 million two months ago, and actually paid up nothing.
My courageous friends are coping in this hell. This is why I want to tell their story, and the facts behind what is happening to them.