The 25-year-old has lived in Yemen most of his life, but now he doesn’t recognise his own country.
“People are losing their lives, losing their homes, losing their sources of income, and no one outside cares about what is going on here.”
“We’ve gotten used to the airstrikes”
The difference from the Yemen he used to know, and the one he sees now, is huge. Amr lived his entire life here before going to study abroad. When he returned in late 2016, there was a war. “The difference has shocked me.”
Since violence intensified in the capital of Sana’a in late November, many people are conscious of just how quickly things can change.
If he’s lucky, Amr is able sleep through the night without being awakened by airstrikes, and fuel will be available when needed.
“Three months ago, when they imposed the blockade, the fuel prices first doubled, then tripled. We were not able to move by car, not only because of the prices, but because there wasn’t enough fuel.”
According to Amr, sheltering from airstrikes has become an everyday habit for Yemenis.
“We’ve really gotten used to the airstrikes. If we hear an aeroplane, we’ll prepare ourselves psychologically, expecting that something will explode.”
No media attention
A great frustration for Amr is how little people seem to know about his country.
“I’ve travelled a lot, and whenever I tell people that I’m from Yemen, they usually assume Yemen is one of the rich countries. This is completely wrong. Yemen is actually one of the poorest countries in the world.”
Additionally, the media seems to be equally disinterested. Little media attention has been given to the crisis, failing to shed light on the situation as things continue to get worse by the day. The main seaport and airport are closed, while the economy collapses driving prices up.
“There have been almost no efforts to intervene or to stop what is happening. No one is reaching for international mediation. Nothing has happened.”
“In early 2015, 1 USD equalled around 214 Yemeni rial, now 1 USD equals around 500 Yemeni rial, so you can imagine the change, the poverty.”
Before the war
Before the war, Amr recalls, people had jobs and the government was able to pay them their salaries.
They had the ability to go away, and to travel. Now, the airport in Sana’a is closed to all commercial flights. If people want to travel, they must make a day’s long drive to the only active airports in the country. Yemen national airways is the only airline serving the country.
Before the war, Amr would stay at his friends’ house late on the weekends. Now, people never know what is going to happen during the night, so they go home before 9 pm.
“Before, whenever I heard an aeroplane” he says, “I would think about the airport. Now, I only think about the airstrike. Where is it going to hit?”
Even the way people interact with each other has changed. Before people used to have patience, now they are psychologically and emotionally drained because of the ongoing situation.
“Yemen is not a country born from war,” he says. “People here never knew about airstrikes or the ground clashes, we never saw people fighting on the street like they do now.”
Despite the bleak outlook, Amr calls himself an optimist.
“I’m an optimist. I always like to think that things will get better, that this whole nonsense war will stop,” he says. “And I’m happy to be working with NRC, providing humanitarian relief and aid to people, because I see that this has a very positive impact on the population.”
Leaving the country could not be further from his mind.
“This is my country, Yemen is the place where I plan to grow older, to get married and have children. But I’m always hoping for a better future, just keeping my fingers crossed, you know.”
Continue working in Yemen
Despite the blockade and serious increase in violence over the past three months, NRC is able to continue working in Yemen.
“Yemen is one of the huge humanitarian crises and it’s being completely neglected. Not a lot of media attention has been given to Yemen and generally people here are not aware of humanitarian agencies,” Amr says.
“We’re here as a humanitarian actor, and we’re not opposed to any side, we’re only here to provide relief for the people.”
Through our operations, we assist conflict-affected populations with clean water and sanitation, shelter, education, food security, livelihood opportunities and legal assistance.
“Before, we usually only needed to inform authorities about the services we provide and then start working, but now we need approval from several different parties, which makes the process longer. Despite this, we are still present on the ground, delivering emergency relief.”
Security and need for funding
We are currently working in several locations in Yemen, including Sana’a, Taiz, Aden, Hodeida, Ammran, Al-Dhala’a and Lahj, which are some of the main areas affected by the war.
“We are always looking to expanding our operations to cover more need,” Amr explains.
The security situation has evolved a lot in recent months, and we are learning how to work in this changing context, how to interact with the factors that are altering the security situation.
“Whenever we go into a new area, the security assessment comes first and to be able to deploy people and start working in new areas, the funding needs to be covered.”
Our work in Yemen:
In some areas, the water systems have been affected. There is not enough fuel and the electric water system is not working. We provide solar powered water pumping systems to enable the population in the area access to clean water. We also participate in water trucking and hygiene promotion.
We provide shelter for internally displaced people who have been forced to leave their homes because of fighting in their area. We give them access to cash and through dialogue with landlords, arrange for people the ability to rent a place to stay. We also build latrines and construct small huts for others to stay with their families.
We provide people with food baskets and cash vouchers they can use to purchase food. Before handing out cash to people, we always do a market assessment to make sure that there are available vendors in the area, and that the population will be able to purchase what they need.
We’re providing informal education and education in emergencies. We provide catch up classes for children who’ve been out of school because of the conflict. We rehabilitate schools hit by airstrikes, and in schools that are still open, we provide furniture, school material and the rehabilitation classrooms and restrooms.
We provide information and legal counselling to people who have fled their homes and have lost access to important identity documents. People who flee often do so with very few possessions, and later need to recover documents that show who they are for access health and education services, or to apply for work. We help facilitate this process and advocate for systems that protect the rights of people affected by displacement.