Another day in Yemen
6:30 AM: I wake up and before I get out of bed I check if there are any urgent text messages and emails. Being part of the CARE family means that emails continue to come in throughout the day (and night). But today I’m lucky: nothing to deal with immediately.
7:00 AM: I like coffee and it is the first thing I make after checking my emails. I don’t have a proper coffee machine yet, but I settled for instant coffee. I can hear the generator coming on, which means that I can have a hot shower! There is little water but I don’t complain. I heard that the price for water has doubled in the past months. Most people in the capital, Sana’a, do not even have water; several clinics were forced to shut down because of the shortage of water.
7:30 AM: I spend a bit of time on my rooftop, which I often use as my workplace. The city is waking up. It feels like Sana’a is a village. I hear birds singing, children playing, the horn of a car, and some lady speaking through a microphone. From up top you can see the many solar panels that cover the city and allow people to use a fridge, lights and electricity. They are an important source of energy since one cannot guarantee that generators, which run on fuel, will remain functional at all times, especially with the 40-60% increase in fuel prices and lack of fuel since the blockade.
8:00 AM: It’s time for my first radio interview today, followed by breakfast with a few colleagues. Breakfast is generally a good time to share security information with the others. Two of my international staff members are outside the country for meetings and holidays; we have relatively few of them here. Every week we send an update on the number of our international staff in Yemen to the UN so that they can plan for possible evacuations. In total, there are about 120 international NGO staff members in Yemen and we are all stuck here because of the blockade. One of them told me that he will probably miss his son’s birthday.
8:30 AM: The office is across the street. Our guards make sure we get safely to the other side. I take time to greet all the staff members in the office. The CARE Yemen team is very good – I have rarely seen such committed and qualified staff. It is a joy to work with them. Some have been with CARE for more than 10 years. Just as I get to my desk, I receive a brief update on the security situation. More airstrikes! They become part of our daily routine. I wonder how many have died this time…
10:00 AM: One of our area managers calls me. After we finally get permission to work in some parts of Hudayda, I am told that the area was declared a military zone. I have no idea what that means, but the result is that we cannot work there. Because we did a needs assessment in another area, we ask the relevant authorities whether we can work there. It looks good. This means that the people in the military zone will not be able to receive our help, but others will. I struggle with the principles of justice.
11:00 AM: More crises mean more meetings. This one is on our food distributions together with the World Food Program. I inform the safety staff where I want to go to and at what time. They check whether it is a safe environment and organize a car and a driver. Once I get into the car, I turn on my tracker so that the operations room knows where I am. Since I cannot attend all meetings by myself my colleague who is temporarily supporting us is willing to attend a few of them.
12:00 PM: I receive about 150 emails per day. I make sure that I reply as quickly as possible to the most urgent ones but it is impossible to answer them all. When multiple people are addressed, I assume that others will reply. Hopefully no one copies my strategy!
1:00 PM: As I am on my way to yet another meeting with partners and donors, I start hearing the sound of a small weapon shooting. Although I am inside the UN compound, I feel very vulnerable. Fortunately the shooting is not aimed at us and I continue to move to the meeting room. The donors are interested in hearing how the blockade affects our humanitarian interventions. We explain that because of existing stocks in the country, we continue business as usual. But we also make clear that if the harbor does not open in time, new supplies will arrive too late. International staff is not able to move in and out of the country. A smaller problem compared to the one regarding commercial markets that are disrupted, with prices for food and other supplies skyrocketing. There is not a lot of money in circulation because government salaries have not been paid in over a year. Someone said that if famine occurs, all people will die at the same time because Yemenis are used to sharing even their scarce resources with one another.
4:00 PM: Today’s lunch: a packet of biscuits that I shared with colleagues during the afternoon meetings. I receive a security update regarding the threats one of our staff members received on the phone a few days ago. We are still not sure who was behind it but we know that the situation for aid workers in Yemen continues to be dangerous.
5:30 PM: Interview with a Dutch radio station and ABC Australia. I actually enjoy doing interviews. We mainly talk about the deteriorating situation in Yemen. More than seven million people depend on outside food aid. There’s a real shortage of water, health care and so much more. This blockade needs to stop. When the journalists ask what we can do, I think they realize how difficult the situation is. However I tell them that we will continue as long as we can with the limited amount of funds we have. We don’t give up hope and we call on governments to build up more political pressure.
8:00 PM: Finally I get some time to eat. Our cook has left some lovely food in the fridge. Halfway through the meal I do another live radio interview. My wife thinks I will become famous, but these interviews are serious business. It is about informing the general public about this terrible development.
9:00 PM: While I am watching the news, I fall asleep. After ten minutes our safety officer calls up to say that there are airstrikes in various places in Hajja and Sana’a. Maybe also in other places but we don’t know yet. I decide to stay awake for a bit longer just to make sure that the airstrikes don’t happen in our neighborhood. We have a house with a basement which we use when the airstrikes get too close. I check our emergency food supplies that would allow us to survive for about 15 days. I need to talk to our safety staff because we need to discuss a second exit from the basement in case our neighborhood is hit.
23:00 Time to go to bed. I had an exciting day and I feel satisfied with all the work that was done. I am proud to be part of the CARE Yemen team. Although Friday is normally a day off, I think I will use the day to catch up on some emails and start yet another day in Yemen. With that thought I fall asleep.
Johan Mooij, Country director, CARE Yemen, 10th November 2017