Yemen: Aid project provides temporary respite

23 August, 2017
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Displaced Taizz children sheltering in a building that houses 53 families in Ibb. Such displaced Yemeni families are living in extreme hardship. Photo: Giles Clarke/OCHA

Sana’a, 14 Aug, 2017 – Ahmed*, Fatma* and Selwa,* survivors of the devastating conflict in Yemen, are among several thousand vulnerable people who have benefited from an aid project that aims to support the poorest households.

More than 12,800 extremely vulnerable people in four Yemeni governorates have benefited from the Life-Saving Non-Food Items (NFIs) and Food Assistance Project. Funded by the OCHA-managed Yemen Humanitarian Fund and implemented by the Humanitarian Forum Yemen (HFY), the year-long project that started in 2016 targeted 2,139 of the poorest, most vulnerable households in Al Bayda, Al Jawf, Ibb and Taizz. Each of these households received five mattresses, five blankets, one kitchen set, a fuelled gas stove, two buckets, two jerry cans and a plastic sheet. Over a six-month period, they also received three food allocations that included staple items such as rice, wheat flour and cooking oil. 

“I had lost all hope”

Originally from Al Bayda governorate, Ahmed,15, lost his parents and sisters in a car accident as they fled war in Ibb. “We lived in Ra’ada city in Al Bayda,” Ahmed explained. “A house of our own, good income from a khat (stimulant herb) farm, a car; we had everything we wanted. My brother and I were going to school and worked with our father on the farm after classes.”

But Yemeni and Al Qaeda forces started fighting in Ra’ada, forcing Ahmed’s family to plan their relocation to Ibb in 2015. “We decided to move in two phases: my parents and sisters first, with my brother and I following two days later,” Ahmed said. “But destiny had planned otherwise. My parents and sisters got killed in a car accident; there were no survivors.

“My father always wanted my brother and I to complete school, so we decided to stay in Ra’ada until the end of the semester,” he added. “I had lost all hope.” 

But worse was to come. “One day, I was walking back home from school when a bullet hit me in the back,” Ahmed said. “I was hospitalized and underwent multiple surgeries, but without success. The doctors told me that I might lose sensation in the lower half of my body.”

Ahmed spent some of what his parents had left behind trying to get proper treatment in Yemen, but he failed to improve. He sold their remaining assets and travelled to India for further medical care, but that was also in vain. 

“I am paralysed, unable to walk,” he said. “I moved to Ibb to live with my grandmother and aunt.” The family received food baskets three times from the Life-Saving NFIs and Food Assistance Project that lasted three months, but they still struggle. 

“My grandmother and aunt are very poor,” Ahmed added. “They lack enough food even for themselves, yet I am now completely dependent on them, adding to their misery.” 

“The sky fell over me”

In 2015, Fatma, 35, and her family abandoned their home in Taizz, a city in south-western Yemen, and sought shelter with her parents in Al Qaida city in Ibb. “We lived a good life, my husband was employed,” she explained. “His income was not much, but we never lacked anything. The family were healthy, we had our own house and were content with our humble life.”

Fatma’s family fled intense fighting. “There was no time to prepare or to organize,” she said. “We headed to Al Qaida. My father was not a wealthy man, and was only barely able to provide for my mother and three younger siblings. But he was the only resort for me, my husband and our four children.”
A few months later, her husband died. “The sky fell over me: my husband suddenly died of a heart attack,” Fatma said. “Even under normal conditions, for an uneducated housewife like me, suddenly becoming widowed with four children to raise is the worst thing that can happen. It was like someone had passed a death sentence for me and my children.”

Fatma grieved for a couple of months, supported by her father, and started recovering from the shock. But tragedy struck again. “My father, my only support, suddenly passed away, leaving me, my four children, my mother and my three siblings without anyone to provide for us,” she explained. 

“Yes, we still had a roof over our heads, but the house was rented,” she added. “How would I pay the rent? Who would put food on the table? Who would help us to endure the dark present?”

Life became very hard. “We reduced the number and size of meals,” she said. “My children started losing weight and developed anaemia. I approached every humanitarian organization in our area, but it was only the Life-Saving NFIs and Food Assistance Project that helped me.”

Buildings damaged by conflict in Sa’ada city, northern Yemen. Many civilians who fled conflict in Taizz fear that their homes have been damaged. Photo: Giles Clarke/OCHA

“We had inner peace and mental stability”

Selwa, 24, and her mother abandoned their home in Salah, a neighbourhood in Taizz city, and they have lived in extreme hardship for two years. “We were not wealthy,” she explained. “In fact, you can call us poor, but we lived with grace, dignity, stability and safety. 

“We had a small house, but it was our own. There were days when we slept hungry. We never had luxuries and used to sleep in the cold, but we had inner peace and mental stability.” 

One day, fighting erupted in Salah with such intensity that many families fled without planning where to go. “We escaped only with the clothes that we were wearing, heading wherever the road took us,” Selwa said. 

They eventually moved to a safer village nearby, where somebody offered them a small shack. Selwa and her mother live there even though the mud walls and thin tin roof can hardly protect them from cold or heat. They cook in a small shaded space outside whenever food is available. 

“There are no bathrooms, but there is a mosque nearby, which we use,” Selwa added. “I walk to the mosque just to use the bathroom, and as a woman I find it difficult. I can’t remember the last time my mother and I took a decent shower. Conditions are difficult, but we deeply appreciate the kind gesture extended to us by the local community.”

Selwa added: “Even if the conflict stabilizes, we will go back to an empty and maybe damaged home, carrying nothing except the items from the Life-Saving NFIs and Food Assistance Project.”

A displaced Taizz family living in an informal settlement in Ibb. Many families in Yemen have lost their livelihoods due to ongoing conflict. Photo: Giles Clarke/OCHA

Temporary relief

“Unfortunately, projects like this only provide short-term assistance, a band-aid of sorts,” said Noha Yehya El-Eryani, HFY Executive Manager. “Peace must return to Yemen so that vulnerable people can find ways to sustainably cater for their food and NFI needs.”

More than 3 million Yemenis have suffered conflict-related displacement since 2015. Around 8 million people have lost their livelihoods or are living with minimal to no basic services. Taizz is one of the governorates most affected by military operations, clashes and air strikes. 

Names have been changed to protect the identities