As well as the issues you have already outlined, Yemen also still faces the world′s biggest outbreak of cholera in recorded history …
Alsaidy: The cholera outbreak was certainly one of the most pressing issues last year, with more than one million people contracting the disease by the end of 2017. In our areas of influence around Sana′a we were able to contain it, however, and there has been a decline in cases over the past months. There were also several vaccination campaigns in co-ordination with UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO) that helped to mitigate the crisis. That goes to show that our presence here can go a long way.
Still, your work on the ground is probably limited by the conflict around you …
Alsaidy: Not only by the conflict itself, but also by the surrounding circumstances. For example, one of the biggest issues we face in our work today is the ongoing blockade of Yemeni ports by Saudi-led coalition forces. Officially, the blockade ended a while back. Practically, however, access to the Hodeidah port – one of the most important harbours of the country – is still controlled via the sea. We need to import drugs from France to Yemen, because the quality of the local drugs cannot be ensured. But with important supply routes cut off and many flights, even UN flights, being delayed for inspection purposes, the medicine is often exposed to extreme temperatures for weeks at a time. The same difficulties exist not only with respect to commodities, but also to personnel. Many of our staffers spend three months in our base in Djibouti before receiving their visas to enter the country. In the end, that primarily jeopardises the people we are trying to care for.
From your perspective as a MdM-representative: what would need to happen for the situation on the ground to improve in Yemen?
Alsaidy: The only thing that would go some way towards resolving this crisis is outside pressure by international actors. The conflict is already far too complicated to be resolved from the inside. You have the Houthi government in the north, the Saudi-led coalition supporting President Hadi in the south, a number of secessionist movements, Iran, the USA and the United Arab Emirates scheming in the background …
… as well as al-Qaida and IS taking hold in some regions.
Alsaidy: That as well. So, counting on an internal resolution of the conflict would be naive. In fact, inside of Yemen, the decision-makers on all sides seem to be more or less comfortable with the state of affairs. They now occupy positions that they could never have reached via a democratic, institutional process. Similarly, outside forces like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are content to control economically viable regions with access to gas and oil supplies. Their aim is to control coastal regions and ports, but never venture too far inland. As a result, the warring factions have not the slightest interest in ending the conflict. Yemen is the backyard in which they can quarrel and flex their muscles with impunity.
Do you believe the United Nations could change that?
Alsaidy: It does seem, at least, that international pressure, if applied correctly, can yield viable results. When the land, sea and air blockade of Yemen was tightened by Saudi Arabia and its allies in late 2017, the UN strongly condemned this move because of its humanitarian consequences. The most strict restrictions were then promptly repealed by the coalition. We would need a similar push by the UN with regards to the conflict as a whole. Especially for an organisation like ours, peace is one of the most important pre-conditions for our work. No humanitarian aid is a substitute for peace: without peace, we are forced to address only the most immediate issues and are unable to build any lasting structures.
Mauritania straddles the transition between the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa, its population is equally divided between Africans and Arabs. Berber women carefully veil themselves with colourful 'melhafas', their feet decorated with henna, while Wolof women show off their beautiful skin glistening with shea butter. By Pascal Mannaerts (www.parcheminsdailleurs.com)