On August 2, 2018, Nora, 30, traveled with her sister and several friends to the Al-Thawra Hospital in Al-Hudaydah, Yemen, to visit a relative. Just as their bus arrived at the hospital’s entrance, a missile landed in front of them and exploded. Al-Hudaydah has been the site of major fighting during the war in Yemen, and a new airstrike was underway.
“I crawled out of the bus and called to my sister and friends but there was no reply,” says Nora. “Then I saw my sister, who was pregnant. She was dying.”
“As I looked at my sister, I heard a familiar sound. As others around me recognized the whistle of a fighter plane, they started screaming: ‘Run! They’re going to drop another bomb.’”
A second missile landed, and the explosion sent shrapnel flying. “I saw one person who was hit in the head and chest, and another whose face was ripped to shreds,” says Nora. “I was so shocked I didn’t realize that I had been hit too. My right leg had been torn off in the first explosion."
Nora had what was left of her leg amputated at Al-Thawrah Hospital. She was then transferred to the hospital in Sana'a, where Humanity & Inclusion works, and underwent a second surgery.
After Nora’s operation, HI’s team immediately stepped in to begin physical rehabilitation and mental health counseling.
"We teach her how to manage her pain and practice strengthening exercises so that she can eventually walk with a prothesis,” says HI Physical Therapist Feida. “We also massage her scar to keep the skin and muscles flexible to avoid the development of sores that might make wearing a prosthesis painful. One of our psychologists is helping her to overcome the trauma caused by the explosion, her amputation, and the death of her sister. With a little more time and effort, Nora should be ready to receive her new leg soon.”
On an autumn day, Raja, 13, was tending her family’s sheep on a mountainside near her home in Yemen when suddenly a loud blast shattered the quiet. Raja had stepped on a hidden landmine, and the impact of the explosion threw her into the air and tore her right leg apart. She fell to the earth unconscious and bleeding profusely.
Friends who were with her carried her to the nearest health center, where nurses saved her life by stopping the bleeding. Due to the seriousness of her condition, she was evacuated to a hospital in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, where doctors amputated her badly damaged leg.
Humanity & Inclusion, which has been supporting people with disabling injuries at the Sanaa hospital since 2014, provided Raja with a wheelchair and made a rehabilitation plan to help her recover. However, the organization first addressed her mental health. An HI psychologist worked with Raja to process the trauma of her experience and help her overcome some of the anger and sadness she felt.
Two months after the surgery, when Raja’s leg was healed sufficiently, she was fitted with a prosthetic leg. Getting back on her feet had a radical impact on her morale.
Following months of rehabilitation and training, Raja felt confident walking long distances with her new leg. Her depression lifted and she looked forward to the future.
"I am happy to have faced my fears,” says Raja. “Now I want to go back home, see my friends, and return to normal life. Before my accident, I had planned to start school. Now I want to fulfill this dream, and hopefully one day become a humanitarian worker, like the HI staff who helped me.”
Twelve-year-old Zakarya is the eighth child of a poor family living in a small village in northern Yemen. His life changed dramatically when he was injured in a rocket attack on his village. "I was outside playing with my friends when a rocket fell into the street and blew up not far from me," he recalls. "The explosion went right through me. I was riddled with shrapnel. I was alone and injured, so I started to scream and cry. You don’t know what it’s like until you’ve been through it."
As there are no hospitals near his home, he was rushed to Sana’a. But his injuries were so grave that surgeons had to amputate his left leg at the thigh.
Like most boys his age, Zakarya loved to run around outside and play soccer with his friends. But suddenly he found himself unable to walk, run or play with his classmates. He felt excluded and fell into a deep depression.
"I was shocked when I was discharged from hospital without one of my legs," he says. "It was horrible. I couldn’t bear to be with other people or even to talk. I felt like they were looking at me with pity all the time."
A new leg
Humanity & Inclusion provided him with crutches, which helped him move around on his own and do things by himself for the first time. It was an important step forward, and one that gave him hope. But he only really began to see an improvement in his condition after he’d started rehabilitation exercises with one of the organization's physical therapists.
Three months after his operation, Zakarya was fitted for an artificial limb. Humanity & Inclusion donors and partners covered the production costs.
Rehabilitation and psychological support
Zakarya started attending group therapy with other children who, like him, had been injured or had had an amputation. It helped him realize he wasn’t alone. There, he began to accept his disability, talk about it and share his feelings, and even made some new friends.
It’s important to combine rehabilitation care with psychological support, explains Ayman, one of HI's physical therapists in Yemen. "We always make sure people get rehabilitation and psychological support. They go hand in hand. Having an amputation is traumatic—physically and psychologically. Some patients refuse to accept what’s happened to them, and they lose interest in life. We help them to recover, use their legs again, and feel better in themselves."
Reviving his dreams
Zakarya is coming to the end of his rehabilitation care. He’s making the most of being a child again and refuses to give up on his dreams: "I want to be a soccer player," he says. "I’m glad I can walk again. I can play with my friends now and go back to school."
Six months ago, 17-year-old Salim was hit by a bomb while working in a grocery store near Hudaydah in Yemen. His injuries were so bad that he had to have his leg amputated below the knee. The experience left him shocked and anxious. Could he live with just one leg? How would he support his family? Would he be able to go back to school?
Salim traveled four hours to Sana’a rehabilitation center to see a physical therapist and be fitted with a prosthetic. “When I first saw Salim, he was depressed,” explains Sana, a psychologist with Humanity & Inclusion. “The pain was keeping him awake. He wouldn’t accept what had happened to him. He cried because he thought his future had been snatched away from him. He didn’t think he could wear a prosthesis and live a normal life.”
To strengthen his muscles and prepare him for his prosthesis, HI’s team provided him with physical therapy and gave him a pair of crutches. We also provided him with psychological support to help him manage his trauma.
"When I was discharged from the hospital after my amputation, I was too ashamed to go to school,” Salim explains. “I didn’t think I’d walk again. In the end, it's tough. But life goes on. I still have a future. I walk normally. I love reading and seeing my friends. I want to continue my studies and support my family."
Humanity & Inclusion (which operates under the name Handicap International in Yemen) works in eight health centers and hospitals in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, where we provide rehabilitation care and psychological support, and distribute mobility aids such as crutches and wheelchairs. The conflict and the blockade imposed in November 2017 by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition has had a devastating impact on the population. Maud Bellon, the director of HI's programs in Yemen, describes the situation.
The wounded come from the different front lines and arrive in waves, depending on how fierce the fighting is. Most are injured in explosions, by gunfire, etc. We also treat large numbers of road accident victims and amputees. Because hospitals are so crowded, medical staff send patients back immediately after surgery, unless the patient has enough money to stay. The main problem is also the great difficulty in transporting injured people from the front lines to hospitals, the cost of transport and medical expenses.
Humanitarian programs in Aden
I recently spent several days in Aden because we’re hoping to open new humanitarian programs in the city and in the governorates of Taizz and Lahj next January. Aden is not the target of violent attacks, unlike other cities such as Hoddeidah in the east of Yemen, where the fighting is extremely violent, or Sa'ada in the north, which is being bombed almost every day.
Aden is a dangerous city, but more because of a surge in criminal activity and protests against rising prices.
The number of armed groups has increased significantly. There are regular attacks and successful assassination attempts on local leaders. The government of Aden is divided into two rival camps.
The blockade imposed in November 2017
One year ago, the military coalition led by Saudi Arabia imposed a blockade on the country’s imports. Fuel is now only available through alternative channels and is more expensive. The price of food, gas, etc. has increased, making it nearly impossible for a Yemeni family to live a normal life.
The fierce fighting that broke out earlier this year in Hoddeidah—the port through which nearly 80% of Yemen's imports and most of its humanitarian aid pass—has also worsened the crisis and further weakened millions of Yemenis who are already struggling to survive.
Although the country imports almost all of its food, as a result of the combined effect of the conflict and blockade, 18 million people—60% of the country's population—are food insecure. In many areas, it is very difficult to access safe drinking water, which has led to an outbreak of cholera in recent weeks.
At the moment, our team is focusing on our humanitarian operations on Sana’a. Since 2014, we’ve been providing rehabilitation care, psychological support and mobility aids (prostheses, crutches, wheelchairs, etc.). Over the past three years, we have supplied rehabilitation assistance to 20,000 people, psychosocial support to 17,000 people, and mobility devices to 9,500 people. 60% of the people we treat have been injured in the conflict, car accidents, and the like. We also recently implemented a program to distribute financial assistance to nearly 600 families. Learn more about our work in Yemen.
The security situation in Sana'a
The fighting is mainly concentrated on the outskirts of Sana’a and there is sporadic bombing. One team had to make an emergency about-turn because of bombing close to the hospital they were traveling to. The city's airport was attacked recently. The extreme volatility of the situation has made the safety of HI’s teams a constant concern of ours.
Key facts about the humanitarian crisis
- November 5-6 2017, the Saudi Arabia-led coalition imposed a total blockade on airports, seaports, and land borders in Yemen.
- Several air and sea ports have since partially reopened.
- Twelve million people are malnourished.
- More than 16 million people do not have access to safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene.
- The value of the local currency, the Yemeni Rial, fell sharply in 2018, putting many goods and essential items—health, food, housing—out of most people’s reach.
- The World Health Organization (WHO) reported 13,500 cases of cholera in October 2018, and warned of the threat of a new epidemic.
The humanitarian situation in Yemen is devastating. Your gift today will help the most vulnerable Yemenis, including people with disabilities and those who have been injured in the conflict. Our team will provide rehabilitation care, assistive devices, and psychosocial support to the injured.
Please, join us in supporting innocent victims of the conflict. Make a gift now.
Any funds raised beyond the needs of our actions in Yemen will be used to support other vital programs in the region.
Photo caption: A Yemeni child walks in the rubble of a building that was destroyed in an air strike in the southern Yemeni city of Taez in March 2018. © Ahmad AL-BASHA / AFPDonate
A bus carrying a group of students—all of which were under the age of 15—was hit by an aerial bombing on Thursday, August 9. The attack took place outside a busy market in Dahyan city, Saada province. At least 30 were killed and 40 have been reported injured.
Civilians are the main casualties of large-scale and continued bombing in the conflict in Yemen that has killed 10,000 people. Globally, 92% of people killed or injured by explosive weapons in populated areas are civilians. This is unacceptable!
Parties to the conflict must stop the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. States must condemn the bombing of civilians in any place any time and find immediate political solutions to end the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
Photo: Aidi, 8, has severe trauma due to the intense bombings in Yemen and doesn't move or speak anymore. Here, an HI physical therapist provides her with rehabilitation care at a hospital in 2017.
Yemen: Saudi and Emirati allies should minimize harm to hundreds of thousands of civilians in Hodeidah attack
15 NGOs appeal to President Macron on the eve of a humanitarian conference on Yemen in Paris
Fifteen humanitarian and human rights organizations today urged Emmanuel Macron and the French government to use all means at their disposal to press their allies, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to minimize harm to civilians during the attack on Hodeidah city, home to Yemen’s most important port. The international humanitarian conference on Yemen organized in Paris on Wednesday June 27, will be useful only if it contributes to preventing this new humanitarian disaster and improving the protection of civilians across Yemen, say NGOs.
The Saudi and Emirati-led coalition launched an attack on June 13 against Houthis around Hodeidah port, on the west coast of Yemen, through which more than 70% of imports enter the country. Hodeidah is a lifeline for more than 20 million Yemenis who rely on outside aid to survive. UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths warned two months ago that an attack on Hodeidah could “in a single stroke, take peace off the table." Fighting for port control also poses a disproportionate risk to civilian populations.
Even before the Hodeidah attack, Yemen was facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, directly linked to three years of conflict and the warring parties’ restrictions on humanitarian aid and access, including the coalition-imposed sea and air blockade on parts of Yemen under Houthi control. UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande, on Friday warned of the threat of a new cholera outbreak due to a possible water system break down in Hodeidah – just months after Yemen grappled with the largest cholera epidemic in modern times with over one million suspected cases.
Thousands of people have already been displaced by recent fighting and the risks to civilians from the Hodeidah offensive are all the more serious given the track record of all parties to the conflict. In three years of war, the coalition forces have repeatedly violated international humanitarian law, using explosive weapons with wide area affect in densely populated areas, bombing schools and hospitals, and blocking aid and access. The Houthi forces they are fighting have also laid antipersonnel landmines, restricted humanitarian access and indiscriminately shelled densely populated areas in Yemen.
France's willingness to do more to address the crisis in Yemen is welcome. However, several NGOs have recently expressed, in an open letter to President Macron, their concerns about the humanitarian conference on Yemen of June 27, co-chaired by Saudi Arabia—a party to the conflict—as a major offensive is under way. The French initiative, now downgraded to a meeting of experts, will be judged on its ability to secure clear commitments from Saudi Arabia and its allies to minimize risks to civilians during the Hodeidah attack and across Yemen, NGOs said today.
The 15 signatory organizations call on France to:
- Publicly warn of the risks to civilians during an attack on Hodeidah and call on all parties to take immediate steps to provide safe passage to civilians fleeing, allow unimpeded access for aid and commercial imports to the broader population and access by humanitarian agencies, as required by international humanitarian law.
- Condemn indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks against civilians by all parties.
- Suspend French arms transfers to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates where there is a substantial risk of these arms being used in Yemen to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian law or international human rights law; and allow for increased parliamentary oversight over arms sales.
The 15 signatory organizations are: ACAT, Alliance internationale pour la défense des droits et des libertés, Amnesty International, Action Contre la Faim, CARE France, Handicap International (known as Humanity & Inclusion in most of its operating countries), Human Rights Watch, Observatoire des Armements, Norwegian refugee Council, Médecins du Monde, Première Urgence Internationale, Saferworld, Salam for Yemen, Save the Children, and SumOfUs.
Anne Héry, Advocacy Director, Humanity & Inclusion (the new name of Handicap International)
“Bombing civilians in Yemen is a crime, not war. France's engagement only makes sense if it does not compromise on the protection of civilians and humanitarian access throughout the Yemeni territory."
Dr. Jean-François Corty, International Operations Director, Médecins du Monde
“The blockade of the coalition, which is akin to collective punishment, and the attack on Hodeidah amplify the deterioration of living conditions and access to care for civilians. France must actively pursue a conflict resolution diplomacy to limit the worsening of the humanitarian crisis.”
Fanny Petitbon, Advocacy Manager, CARE France
“The port of Hodeidah is the lung of Yemen. It is the entry point for 70% of food, medicine, gas and humanitarian aid. If the port stops working, people will not be able to support themselves for long: the stocks will not last more than two months and the whole country is at risk of asphyxiation. France must use all the levers at its disposal to immediately stop the offensive on the city and support the UN efforts to take control of the port and accelerate the peace process. This is the only way to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe.”
Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)
“More and better aid is urgently needed for millions faced with starvation, disease and deprivation. But only cease-fire and peace talks can end this man-made hemorrhage of human lives. The Paris conference must therefore focus on ending this senseless war. France, the US, UK have earned big money on arms sales to those waging war and we demand they use their influence to push Saudi Arabia and the UAE to the table, just as we demand that Iran use their leverage on Ansar Allah before the conflict escalates beyond hope."
Stéphanie Lord, Hodeidah Field Coordinator, Action Against Hunger (ACF)
“In Hodeidah, our teams support more than 4000 children suffering from acute malnutrition per month on average and complete more than 7,600 medical consultations per month. However, the current military intervention in Hodeidah is leaving hundreds of thousands of women, men and children stranded without any support or access to humanitarian aid. We are extremely worried about not being able to reach people in need as the warring parties advance, leaving civilians caught in the middle.”
Robert Parker, Director of Policy, Saferworld
“Addressing human suffering in Yemen requires more than humanitarian efforts; it requires building peace. There can be no military solution to the war in Yemen. International actors like France, the UK and the US, must stop material and diplomatic support to the warring parties and focus on an inclusive peace process in which the voices of Yemen’s women, men and young people are heard.”
Racha Mouawieh, Yemen Researcher for Amnesty International and author of the report “Stranglehold: Coalition and Huthi obstacles compound Yemen’s humanitarian crisis”
“For the last three years, the restrictions imposed by the Saudi-led coalition have prevented Yemenis from obtaining vital products they desperately need. The deadly military offensive carried out by the coalition against Hodeidah will aggravate an already catastrophic situation and endanger millions of civilians. France must stop looking away while Yemen slowly suffocates.”
Bénédicte Jeannerod, France Director, Human Rights Watch
“The battle of Hodeidah raises huge concerns about its potentially devastating impact on civilians throughout Yemen, already suffering during more than three years of conflict from large-scale violations by all sides, notably the Saudi-led coalition. France and Saudi Arabia have undertaken with great fanfare a humanitarian conference on Yemen. Its usefulness will be judged by its concrete results for civilians: the end of unlawful attacks on civilians, unrestricted access to humanitarian assistance, and ensuring civilians can flee the fighting for safety. France should act consistently with its claimed support for human rights in Yemen, by ending all weapons sales to the Saudis, who have repeatedly violated the laws of war and taken no action against those responsible."
Hélène Legeay, Maghreb/Middle East Program Manager, ACAT
“France is officially expressing its concern over the humanitarian crisis affecting Yemeni civilians, but is proving much more silent with regards to the sale of French weapons that could be used against these same civilians. In contravention of the Arms Trade Treaty and the Military Programming Law, it has still not published its annual reports on its exports of war materials. This silence is more than dubious.”
Olivier Routeau, Operations Director, Première Urgence Internationale
"The risk to the civilian population of Hodeidah is now immense. These populations’ access to basic services will be interrupted if the assault continues or in case of attempted encirclement of the city. Drinking water distribution networks are already damaged, in an area where temperatures will soon rise to extreme levels, and cholera will re-emerge seasonally. The urgency to find a diplomatic solution for Hodeidah and its port has never been higher."
Tony Fortin, Research Officer, Observatoire des Armements
"Although there is suspicion of massive French arms involvement in Yemen - including Leclerc tanks in Hodeidah province - the government has still not published its annual report to Parliament on arms sales. In doing so, the State violates its own law since the deadline for the publication of such data is set on June 1st by Law No. 2013-1168 of December 18th, 2013. This reflects a clear delay compared to other European powers (The United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands) in which Parliaments have access to data on arms contracts and have broad supervisory powers in the matter."
Sadek Alsaar, President, Salam For Yemen
"Beyond the conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people and injured 50,000, the blockade on Yemen is deadlier than the fighting. The attack on the port of Hodeidah, the main point of entry for food and humanitarian aid, is likely to worsen the situation of this country, where 90% of food needs are imported."
Eoin Dubsky, Campaign Manager at SumOfUs
"The urgency of the situation in Hodeidah should more than ever convince the French government to respect the Arms Trade Treaty. More than 101,000 people signed the SumOfUs petition calling on President Macron to stop French arms exports to countries involved in the Yemeni conflict. A recent survey conducted by YouGov for SumOfUs indicates that 75% of French people are in favor of suspending these exports, while nearly 70% support greater parliamentary oversight on these issues."
ADDITIONAL MEDIA CONTACTS
On Friday April 27, 2018 at 10:40 PM, an airstrike from the Saudi led coalition hit the National Blood Transfusion and Research Center of the Al Sabeen Hospital, a building located 65 feet from the First Physiotherapy Center, where Humanity & Inclusion, which works under the name ‘Handicap International’ in Yemen, is providing support.Read more
April 3, 2018, Geneva
This statement is made on behalf of 22 international NGOs current working in Yemen.
INGOs are delivering life-saving humanitarian assistance to millions of vulnerable Yemenis, despite the complex and serious nature of the security situation and sustained bureaucratic access constraints.
For the record, we would like to formally acknowledge the dedication and commitment of all national, international and UN humanitarian aid workers in Yemen. Delivering humanitarian assistance in Yemen is neither safe nor simple, particularly for the thousands of Yemeni staff whose work to deliver shows fortitude and courage.
The reality is that despite these gallant efforts, the humanitarian response is still failing to meet the basic needs of the 22 million Yemenis requiring assistance and protection. Yemeni people are dying of preventable illnesses, and the number on the brink of famine continues to rise.
As INGOs we are grateful for the financial commitments made by member states here today, but more is needed to tackle a humanitarian catastrophe of the scale we see in Yemen. What we need is a marked increase in engagement from the international community in the complexities of this conflict in order to reduce the suffering of the Yemeni people.
Therefore, today, INGOs are inviting donors and high-level Ministerial visits to Yemen, to enable you to ground your engagement and approach to supporting the country.
- By being in Yemen you will better understand the short term but also the longer term needs of the Yemeni people, delve into the narrative and stories behind the figures cited in the HNO today. To understand the needs of the two million people that have fled their homes, the plight of the unpaid health worker, the frustration of the teachers with a classroom of hungry children, and the fear the conflict brings to daily life.
- By being in Yemen you will better understand the grounded realities of delivering humanitarian aid and to be better placed to help resolve the daily impediments in delivering that support; to experience the frustration that comes from knowing that people are suffering because we are being prevented from reaching them – that more people could be helped if administration processes were fast tracked and security improved.
- By being in Yemen you will better understand the modalities of the humanitarian response and the need for increased funding for livelihoods, community resilience building, and kick start the process of early recovery in parts of the country where there is some stability.
- By being in Yemen you will better understand the devastation created by the failure of authorities to pay public servants for nearly two years. We need you to take responsibility for finding modalities to address this, and ensure hospitals, schools and water networks are operational.
- By being in Yemen you will better understand that restrictions in imports and unstable supply chains lead to critical shortages, and to see the impact of inflated prices across basic commodities such as food, fuel and medicines.
- By being in Yemen you will better understand that the future of the country is at risk as close to 2 million children are denied access to education.
Finally, by being in Yemen you will foster and strengthen engagement with all important stakeholders. We need leadership from the international community that doesn’t just passively support a peace process but takes an active role in driving it forward.
Despite the generosity of member states and the gallant efforts of the humanitarian response, the plight of the Yemeni people continues to deteriorate. We are all fearful that another year will pass, no progress will be made, and more people will suffer and die.