Opinion piece by Salem Jaffer Baobaid
After the ceasefire in Hodeida came into force last month, there was a small window of hope. We all thought, finally, things might get better.
Some families even started coming back to the city but quickly all our hopes disappeared. Now it is clear to me that a ceasefire alone cannot improve the humanitarian situation in Yemen for ordinary civilians.
The bombing may have stopped but security remains a huge challenge. Delivering aid - especially to remote areas - is still a matter of life and death for the people who need aid to survive and, unfortunately, for our staff who risk their lives to make sure that food makes it to places it is needed.
Two weeks ago, one of our drivers died after a stray bullet hit him in broad daylight. He was just 1km from our office and had stopped to change a tire at a local garage. Anywhere else in the world, this would be a simple, everyday task, but not in Hodeida.
We have been living under these conditions for several years now, but you never really get used to news like this. On one level, it makes you even more determined to go out and do whatever you can to ensure people have access to food, water and medicine. But we are also only human. Of course, we get scared. Our families are scared. A creeping anxiety touches us all every time we leave the house to simply do our jobs.
At the end of the day though, we all make a choice and live with the harsh reality that what scares us the most is knowing what will happen if we do not go out there to deliver food, water, medicine and basic supplies like blankets.
A few weeks ago, I saw Faiza, an 11-month-old girl carried into one of Islamic Relief’s medical centres. She was skin and bone. Her eyes were so hollow and haunting that I felt she only had a few days of life left on this earth. She barely moved or cried. Every breath she took looked like it pained her tiny frame.
The ongoing conflict embattled Faiza on multiple fronts. First, chronic malnutrition eroded her natural defenses and then watery diarrhea robbed her of what little strength she had left. Her mother was desperate to help, but the mixture of stress and her ever shrinking food intake meant that she could not breastfeed properly. To make matters worse, the high price of petrol and danger on the road meant that they left it as late as possible before seeking treatment.
Faiza is now recovering but she is just one child out of thousands in dire need. The number of babies being admitted to our centres with severe and acute malnutrition is increasing all the time. We are already treating more than 60,000 mothers, children and babies every single month in Hodeida but as soon as we manage to treat people, more patients arrive.
And that is just the people we know about; so many more are cowering in remote villages where services are scarce or non-existent.
No wonder that the hundreds of thousands of people who have fled Hodeida for other parts of Yemen are reluctant to return and are often choosing to live in makeshift camps where they sleep on the ground with nothing more than a canvas sheet to cover them at night. They have no faith that life here will soon get back to anything approaching normal.
If we are not safe 1km from our office, how can we ever hope to reach even a fraction of those in need?
This is why we must see an unbridled easing of all restrictions on humanitarian aid and access, as it was agreed in Stockholm last December. We need the international community to exert further influence on all parties to the conflict in Yemen to ensure that we can get a far-reaching, practical and ultimately workable solution that will bring an end to the humanitarian and political crisis.
The Hodeida ceasefire was just a small piece of a much bigger and bloodier puzzle that we must strive to solve. Without this, many girls like Faiza will never get the chance to grow up, and far too many mothers, fathers, daughters and sons will continue holding their breath every time a loved one walks out the front door.
Salem Jaffer Baobaid is the Head of Islamic Relief’s Hodeida office in Yemen
Opinions expressed in View articles are solely those of the author.