BRUSSELS – Wafaa Alsaidy is the Sana’a general coordinator for the non-partisan non-governmental organisation Medecins cu Monde (MDM), operating in emergency contexts. A pharmacist by trade, Alsaidy quickly delved into the world of humanitarian aid in her country, Yemen, after a devastating war broke out in 2014.
To sustain their work, MDM has remained neutral in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, refusing to take any funds from parties directly or indirectly involved in any political conflicts. This is precisely why Wafaa chose to join MDM: As a Yemeni citizen, she is determined to serve her follow citizens and care for human lives.
As a result of the under-funding of the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan in 2020, she witnessed 16 of the UN’s 41 major programmes reduced or shut down. This funding deficit, plus the COVID-19 pandemic, has meant Yemen’s needs have increased during an already unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe.
Many of Alsaidy’s international humanitarian colleagues are hoping to see a return to the approach that many nation states, including Gulf donors, took in 2019 by generously donating to support affected civilian populations.
Alsaidy spoke with The Arab Weekly through Zoom, sharing real life stories of emergencies on the ground as well as potential solutions to alleviate all human suffering in the country as soon as possible.
The Arab Weekly (AW): What does the current Yemeni humanitarian crisis look like?
Wafaa Alsaidy (WA): “Since the conflict started in 2015, we have seen deteriorating humanitarian conditions. Yemeni civilians have more and more difficulty accessing any life-supporting services such as food, health, shelter and education for children. Since 2018, we have witnessed a decrease in funding while needs are ongoing and exponentially increasing.”
“The ongoing pockets of conflicts and new fronts spread across the country, the outbreak of COVID-19, as well as the fuel crisis have added to the already complex vulnerabilities of the population. In times of financial hardship, families are choosing between expensive fuel and bread; doctors are pondering which lives to save first; and humanitarian aid workers contemplate how to serve populations with little to no means.”
AW: What were the consequences of the reduced Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan on humanitarian operations in 2020?
WA: “First, we cannot contain life-threatening disease outbreaks such as diphtheria, measles, dengue fever. With the lack of funding, we now have to send children with contagious illnesses to hospitals mixed with other patients and newborns because we no longer have access to isolation centres.”
“Second, pressure has mounted on medical staff and facilities; particularly in main cities. Hospitals have to evacuate beds at the earliest opportunity possible, sending new mothers home without proper recovery time. As a result, we have seen increased rates of infection, fever, septicaemia and other complications which could have been prevented had we been able to provide more bed capacity.”
“Third and the worst of all, we witness increasing number of preventable death cases, particularly among children. With reduced funding, other humanitarian actors can no longer lead outreach activities in remote and village areas. Parents who can no longer afford transportation costs due to skyrocketing fuel prices have to dangerously wait last minute, when it is sometimes way too late. Every day, we hear of the death of previous young beneficiaries. In most cases, these were preventable deaths with simple medicine, check-ups, screenings follow-ups or other vaccines.”
AW: How are local non-governmental organisations and their beneficiaries coping with reduced aid funding?
WA: “As Medecins du Monde, we are trying to enhance the capacity of humanitarian medical staff in health facilities. We are one of the few lucky ones since our donors committed to continue funding our intervention in Yemen. However, other non-governmental organisations working in the health sector had to release staff and abandon facilities they could no longer afford to support; meaning they can no longer reach out to the most vulnerable populations.”
“Moreover, we are witnessing an increased amount of child labour. Mothers who no longer receive food aid package on a monthly basis have had to find ways to cover for that particular gap by sending their children above age 12 to work and bring an income.”
“We work with the most deprived and vulnerable populations, who have been dependent on humanitarian aid from the start of crisis. As a result of ongoing opening and closure of facilities, Yemeni civilians have lost faith and trust in some public health facilities that were a lifeline to them. A lack of funding only makes it even worse for those populations.”
AW: What is the utmost priority for humanitarian funding for Yemeni civilians in 2021?
WA: “Priorities should not be set by non-governmental organisations or countries only. This choice should be made equally by local affected populations. When limited funding comes in, we as organisations concentrate our efforts on ensuring the funding is spent on the most vulnerable beneficiaries and emergencies.”
“The outbreaks of measles and cholera, the increase of local conflicts and clashes, as well as the ongoing famine have set our priorities at MDM to health, food and protection of civilians.”
AW: Why is it important to consider humanitarian aid beyond regional politics?
WA: “As aid workers, we address the needs of civilians in two ways: We ask for more funding to cope with the increasing needs and we strongly advocate reducing the humanitarian needs. In the latter case, we would need to look at the other side of the equation. What caused Yemen to be the worst humanitarian crisis in recent history? Among other factors, the war and the blockade.”
“Stopping this meaningless war and lifting out the blockade on the Yemeni civilian population would definitely decrease the price of food and other life essentials and hence decrease humanitarian aid needs. The humanitarian crisis can no longer afford the decisions of few high-pledging individual donors to impact the lives of millions of children and of the upcoming generations.”