In the news: Violence and uncertainty in Sana'a

Yemen, March 26, 2015

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  • A scene from the streets of Sana'a, where residents recently awoke to the sound of bombs, along with uncertainty about the future. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps

Note, March 30: Mercy Corps relocated all international team members from Yemen following the air strikes in Sana'a. As soon as it is safe, we will mobilize teams to check on the people we serve in Yemen. We hope to resume our normal operations soon.

When a coalition led by Saudi Arabia began strikes against the Houthis in Yemen on March 25, residents of the city of Sana’a woke to the sound of bombs. Mercy Corps’ Director of Programs in Yemen, Jonathan Bartolozzi, told NPR listeners what it was like:

“It began around 2:30 in the morning,” he said. “And it was constant until around 5:00. Pretty much everyone was woken by large explosions. It appears as though the targets were mostly military and strategic, on the outskirts of the city. When the sun came up, life seemed quite back to normal.”

Normal, in Sana’a, means living with a lot of uncertainty. Recently, embassies have shut down. Aid has been suspended. But life goes on, and Yemenis are resilient. People are planning demonstrations against the airstrikes and the foreign intervention.

Mercy Corps has about 100 staff in offices in three Yemen cities: Sana’a, Aden and Taiz. Our team members are on the ground, safe and monitoring the situation closely. They are committed to helping the people of Yemen. “We are hopeful that our work will continue,” said Bartolozzi, “so that we will be able to support the community that has so much need.”

More than half the country’s population of 16 million lives in poverty. One obvious concern is the impact the airstrikes will have on people who are already so vulnerable. Since beginning its work in Yemen in 2010, Mercy Corps’ top priority has been meeting urgent humanitarian needs.

“We are working to address chronic conditions — root causes of conflict — that need lasting solutions,” explained Bartolozzi. “For instance, Yemen being one of the 10 most water-scarce countries in the world, we are making sure that families, schools and clinics have reliable water supplies.”

If the fighting expands and people are forced from their homes, Mercy Corps will help meet their needs. “Right now we are preparing for displacements that might occur a result of conflict,” he said. “We are partnering with UNICEF, and we have trained staff who are ready to respond.”

Basic daily services and supplies could clearly be an issue. “Since many donors and members of the diplomatic community have left, there are fewer medicines available in clinics,” reported Bartolozzi.

“For now, telecommunications are up and running, although we have lost telecoms during periods of conflict over the past year. Electricity is always unreliable. One big concern is the availability of fuel, especially if oil pipelines are cut. These are the types of problems that, if they continue, we can see conditions getting worse and affecting more people.”

But, Bartolozzi made clear, “as long as we are able to deliver the services that we are here to deliver, we will continue to operate in Yemen. As always, we remain focused on the safety and security of our team. And of course, on the people here. It is very important not only that the attacks cease, and the parties to the conflict go back to the negotiating table, but that donors resume their support for the Yemeni people.”