Driving through the streets of Yemen’s capital of Sanaa, my heart is heavy and burdened. It was my first time returning to Yemen since the airstrikes began in March, and it is not the same country. It is now a war zone. Before I could even leave the airport, a car with security staff had to risk their lives to travel ahead of us to find a safe route to the CARE office in Sanaa.
The streets tell the story of life in Yemen now. As we traveled to the office, roads were practically empty of cars, when normally we’d be stuck in traffic. I used to complain about the traffic, but now I would love to see the roads in Yemen bustling with honking cars again. The city is filthy with trash and sewage lining the streets and in some areas the smell of sewage is overwhelming. We would drive along some streets where the buildings would be untouched, but then turn a corner and the entire block damaged or destroyed from bombings. Over the past few months, I’ve heard stories of these images from staff, but seeing it with my own eyes is shocking.
My first night back in Sanaa exhausted from my long journey, I went to sleep at 9:30pm, but was quickly woken by the entire house shaking and the loud sound of planes overhead. It was the airstrikes, and I had no idea where the plane was and if our house was about to be caught in the crossfire of this conflict. I had to quickly rush to the basement for safety the rest of the night, where I was forced to stay awake as the airstrikes continued. This ended up being the nightly routine for the entire week I was there. You quickly realize the importance of sleep on your physical, mental and emotional health when sleep is not an option. But I was only there for a week. My colleagues have endured sleepless nights for months now.
Reuniting with my staff was a joyous but sobering occasion. This is not the same staff I left four months ago. Many of them are displaced, have lost family members to the conflict and are fearful of what’s to come as resources continue to shrink. I could see clearly in their eyes the stress and burden they are dealing with, but each day they come to the office to continue the work, even willing to dodge airstrikes to get there.
Just getting to the office is a challenge, but getting out to actually deliver desperately-needed aid is borderline impossible. A commercial blockade is preventing many supplies from getting in. When supplies do get in, fuel shortages and ongoing violence impacts our ability to transport aid supplies and safely access those who need it most. We are delivering food and clean water where we are able, but we must have better access to do more.
Although this conflict has been raging for over four months now, Yemenis are hopeful it will be resolved. Most people have set aside any of their political differences, as safety and security has become their biggest concern. We’re seeing communities come together to share resources, open their homes to each other and even clean their streets.
Seeing the resilience and optimism Yemenis have in spite of their current horror is inspiring and gives me hope for this country. But for this horror to end, the only solution is a political solution. The world must stop turning a blind eye as Yemen continues to unravel and innocent civilians die. There must be a collective effort to pressure the warring parties to put down their weapons and reach a peaceful solution. I have hope for Yemen, and it’s time for the world to have hope for Yemen too.