Yemen’s economy and healthcare system have been devastated by five years of ongoing Saudi-led war, leaving the people of Yemen powerless and struggling to survive.
“The most harmful damage in this dirty war is the Saudi-led coalition airstrikes, which are being launched everywhere in the country. As a civilian, I have seen countless residential areas being hit including bridges, hospitals, schools and roads all over the country,” expressed CEO of Mona Relief Yemen Fatik Al-Rodaini.
Since Saudi’s intervention in the war, nearly 20,500 air raids have been carried out in the country, according to data collected by the Yemen Data Project.
“A lot of people reading may not be happy that I’m saying this, but that is what I have seen,” explained Al-Rodaini. “My brother-in-law was killed by Saudi-led coalition rockets, and my neighbourhood was also targeted by the jets at the beginning of the war. I have seen many children losing their lives and the joy of living in peace.”
According to The Guardian: “Yemen has been troubled by civil wars for decades, but the current conflict intensified in March 2015 when a Saudi-led coalition intervened on behalf of the internationally recognised government against Houthi rebels aligned with the former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.”
Founded by Al-Rodaini, Mona Relief is one of the few local, independent organisations that purchase food and supplies locally and delivers life-saving aid to displaced families, bypassing the blockade surrounding Yemen.
Al-Rodaini, the 43-year-old human rights activist, was born and raised in the capital of Sana’a. Having graduated in mass media, radio and TV from Sana’a University, Al-Rodaini had since been reporting live from Yemen until 2015, when the Saudi-led coalition launched the most relentless bombing campaign.
“Originally, I’m a journalist. I worked as the editor of the news website of late President Ali Abdullah Saleh at Yemen’s Saba News Agency. I hadn’t worked in humanitarian aid at all before, but in 2015, the situation became terrifying, it was disturbing,” he recounts.
“For that reason, I decided to turn my career from journalism to a humanitarian field to help my people in Yemen. On 23 May, 2015, we had our first distribution of 32 food baskets of diversified foodstuff for displaced families.”
“Since 2015, we have worked in more than 12 provinces in Yemen, distributed more than 50,000 food baskets to displaced and vulnerable families, orphans and widows, more than 8,000 school bags, 20,000 pieces of clothing and 15,000 blankets and other shelter material.”
In February 2019, the United Nations (UN) called the humanitarian crisis in Yemen “the worst in the world”, reporting that nearly 80 per cent of the population required assistance, with 14.3 million people in acute need and about 3.2 million people dependent on treatment for acute malnutrition.
Now, the COVID-19 pandemic has created what UNICEF called an “emergency within an emergency”, due to a short supply of clean water, poor sanitation and the country’s scarcity of functioning health facilities. Many of the health facilities that do remain lack essential equipment and supplies.
It was reported that UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock told the Security Council in June that the virus was spreading rapidly across Yemen and that 25 per cent of the confirmed cases have been fatal – around “five times the global average”.
This is indeed extremely concerning, however, Al-Rodaini points out that the coronavirus is not the first disease that has been ravaging Yemen: “We have other diseases all over the country, in addition to the healthcare system which is already non-functional and damaged. So, any measures taken will not be practical due the current condition of all Yemenis.”
“Also, all preventative measures being taken by the authorities here are limited and not that much compared to other countries, because the government cannot apply any measures due to the condition of Yemeni people who are depending on just minimal daily wages to live.”
Al-Rodaini added: “Just a month ago, people started to be aware of the coronavirus spreading among them, so they started to apply the basic international measures to be safe, such as social distancing, self-quarantine and wearing masks.”
Across Yemen, health, sanitation and nutrition services that keep millions from starvation and disease are gradually closing amid an acute funding shortage.
Al-Rodaini also notes that the reality is that the war is more than partly funded and propelled by the US and the UK, by providing military and diplomatic support to the Saudi-led coalition.
“The British government and most of the Western countries are part of the crimes and murders of Yemeni people because they continued providing arms to Saudi Arabia that are killing innocent Yemeni people. Without the West’s arms, Saudi Arabia will not continue the war. Saudi money talks,” asserted Al-Rodaini.
Yemen’s blockade and other import restrictions have left doctors struggling with obsolete equipment, and have led to the doubling of cost of many essential medicines, explained Al-Rodaini.
Aid organisations have repeatedly called on the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis to agree that medicine, food and fuel can freely enter Yemen, and to restart regular passenger flights from the capital of Sana’a. But until now, it has been falling on deaf ears.
Al-Rodaini noted: “We are not able to receive any kind of aid from abroad due to the blockade and siege on the country. For us as a local charity, it is very hard because the nearest seaport to us is Hodeidah seaport in western Yemen, but that is not operating except for UN agencies. Otherwise, we have another option to receive aid via Aden seaport in southern Yemen, and that will cost a lot of money to be spent on transportation and customs, which we don’t have.”
Surviving and working under years of bombing, shelling and gunfire, Al-Rodaini witnessed the country being ripped apart, and inevitably, the most heartbreaking incidents.
He recalled, that in 2015, his team arrived in the Harf Sufyan area of the Amran governorate to distribute food aid packs to almost 180 vulnerable families there, however, the team couldn’t complete its mission due to intensive air raids carried out by Saudi jets.
“Almost everything within a one-mile radius was flattened,” Al-Rodaini recalls. “We barely survived and fled to the Khaywan area until morning the day after, leaving the food baskets behind. When we returned, we discovered that the Saudi jets used prohibited bombs.”
He explained that when Saudi jets hit residential areas, local residents respond by running to help families trapped under the rubble before the ambulance arrives, despite it putting their own lives at risk.
“It’s one victim saving another victim on the ground in Yemen, because together they are hopeful for a better future – that sooner or later, the war will end, and they will return to their daily lives. Yemeni people just need the chance to live in peace. We need the world to call for an immediate end to the war in the country. When the war ends, Yemenis will rebuild their country with their own hands.”
Al-Rodaini concludes: “This reflects the courage of Yemeni people. We’re not only rebuilding broken buildings here every day, we’re also rebuilding our humanity here to save ourselves from crushed spirits and damaged minds.”