There is an urgent need to reach hundreds of thousands of severely malnourished children before it’s too late. Sukaina Sharafuddin is an aid worker for Save the Children in Yemen. Below she explains what’s it’s like to be a Yemeni mother living under the endless bombs that fall from the skies.
It’s hard to believe what’s become of Yemen, my country.
In less than four years of war we’ve been sent back a century. There are the endless airstrikes. The bombs that fall from the skies every night as I hug my son to sleep. And then there are the families you see living in the streets, their children crying out for a drink of water.
Since the war began in 2015, an estimated 85,000 children under the age of five have perished from starvation and disease. These are deaths that should never have happened. They are a consequence of a conflict being fought without any respect for human life, where food and aid are being used as weapons of war.
World leaders need to do more
There is far more that world leaders can do to stop the suffering of Yemen’s children.
Food and aid need to be let into the country, and children must be allowed out to get urgent medical treatment. And those countries, like the UK, that are fuelling the conflict with weapons must think again.
The UN is negotiating a peace deal. World leaders must get behind it. As a Yemeni mother, witnessing her people starve, there are no other options left.
I found out I was pregnant a week before the fighting began. As the bombs rained down over the months to come, my doctor advised me to put on headphones and listen to music to distract me from the sound of airstrikes.
I barely slept. And then my son was born, in the middle of a war zone.
When my baby boy was learning to walk, my neighbour lost their five-year-old to hunger. His parents couldn’t afford food, clean water, or even the bus fare to hospital. And while my son was learning to talk, my 17-year-old cousin died from diabetes. She couldn’t find medicine or leave the country for treatment.
She’d always wanted to be an English teacher in a good college, far away from war.
These days the war is in everything
It’s in the little things that you never even thought about before. In the first chill of the morning, you worry about whether you’ll have electricity and fuel to keep your children warm. Or as food prices double and triple in the supermarkets, you worry about simply buying enough food to eat. For the cost of a single egg these days, you could have bought four before the war began.
My son and I have been lucky. I am one of a shrinking number of Yemenis to have a job that pays for food, fuel and a roof over our heads. There are millions of families who have lost everything.
I’ve met families who boil water and put spices into it for their only meal of the day
I know a mother who had to sell her house just to have money to feed her five children. They are now living in a small tent on the street. I once met a 12 year old girl, who, when I asked her what she wanted to do this year, said she wanted to get married. ‘Because then I will be eating chicken and rice for lunch.’
I’m proud to be a Yemeni mother and aid worker for Save the Children, saving lives in this forgotten crisis.
We’ve fed more than 140,000 children since 2015. And we’re trying to save their futures by providing medical treatment, counselling and safe spaces to play.
But while this brutal war continues, fuelled by some of the most powerful nations on earth, we cannot hope to reach them all. The only hope most Yemenis can dare to have is for a tomorrow, if they survive the night.
Words by: Sukaina Sharafuddin, an aid worker for Save the Children in Yemen. You can donate to Save the Children’s Yemen Crisis Appeal here.
A version of this article first appeared in the Metro.