The ugly truths of Yemen's war must not stay buried in the rubble
By Rasha Mohamed
Anguish, frustration, grief, helplessness, seething anger.
A mixture of all those emotions washed over me as I stood next to Mohamed an hour after an airstrike had destroyed his house in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. They left me dumbstruck. He was grief stricken and equally speechless as he sat in front of the rubble of his house in his undergarments, his face smeared with blood and dust.
Mohamed had just lost his eight-year-old son Sami in a Saudi-led coalition forces airstrike an hour before I arrived on the scene, on 2 July. His 14-year-old daughter Sheikha and six-year-old son Hamoodi were still alive at the time, but trapped under the rubble. I stepped into the skeletal structure that once was their home, and followed the sound of the heaving and hoeing of men hard at work with levers. Six men were struggling to budge a huge fallen roof slab, under which Sheikha and Hamoodi were pinned. They were calling out their names in vain.
I felt utterly helpless at my inability to do anything to help pull the two children out from under the ruins of their house. I was overwhelmed and wished I could be superwoman, whilst the father sobbed in the background and the house crumbled over our heads. I could hear Coalition planes still circling above, almost tauntingly triumphant. At whose expense? Those poor children who were eventually dug out, lifeless, 15 hours later. It had been too late.
The truth is ugly and raw. Civilian suffering is the high price of every armed conflict. And Yemen is no exception. But I think often, politicians and other stakeholders do not want to paint the picture in all its painful detail, so they stick to the generalities.
In reality, for many people in Yemen all the details of this war are painful. Take 14-year-old Hamada, whose whole right leg was amputated due to injuries he sustained in a mortar strike in his neighbourhood of Inshaat in Aden. He told me he feels like he will never play again; he certainly won’t see life the same way. When I visited his bedside at home, he was embarrassed, and wanted to cover his amputated leg. And I felt ashamed and guilty for prying, for making him relive the experience with my questions.
But he opened up and told me how a mortar landed in his neighbourhood whilst he was fetching water and a shrapnel entered his right leg. The family had to move to a different neighbourhood to avoid the ongoing fighting between opposing armed groups. As we sat there in their new home, I could hear fighting in the distance. I knew they were not any safer there. As I looked into Hamada’s huge and expressive eyes, it made me wonder what an innocent child like him has ever done to deserve such a fate.
When you are out in the field, adrenaline takes over and envelopes you. You witness corpses, amputated limbs, infected wounds, homelessness and disease, but you feel like you have no right to react because your suffering is miniscule compared to what you are witnessing.
When I met Anhar Najeeb at an intensive care unit in Aden, her eyes were pleading with me and her impaired speech beseeched me. Her eyes welled up with tears as she struggled to raise her hand to display her suffering. But she couldn’t, as a piece of shrapnel had left her paralysed in all four limbs following a grad rocket attack on her neighbourhood in Block 4, Aden. She told me that they’d just moved there to escape further fighting and dengue fever in their old neighbourhood of Crater. But to no avail.
“Who is going to take care of my intellectually disabled brother now? Who will take care of my deaf and mute son? Look at me: I can’t even move,” she said, tearing up again. Overcome again by helplessness, all I wanted to do was hug her and tell her that it was going to be ok. But the reality and truth made me freeze, I felt mentally and emotionally paralysed as I stood over her bed.
In Yemen, the misery is rampant and abundant. Bombs continue to rain from the sky, reckless fighting rages on the ground, and with them come diseases, hunger, homelessness, terror and death. But the world chooses to be blind to it. It is pathetic and disgusting how human life is so dispensable to the international community.
Yemen’s civilians deserve better. Maybe I cannot save all the children from the rubble or work miracles to restore life and limb to people who have lost them. But at least I can make sure their stories get heard.
- Apr 04, 2016