Yemen: “Scenes of Despair” in Taiz

YEMAN 2015 © Didier Assal/MSF

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) project coordinator Arunn Jegan is currently working in Yemen, where years of grinding conflict have had a devastating effect on the nation’s health system. Here, he describes the situation in Taiz, a city in southwestern Yemen that has been convulsed by fighting between various armed groups since 2015.

“I just arrived in Taiz, Yemen, where MSF supports multiple hospitals on both sides of the front lines. Although I read in the media before coming here how dire the humanitarian situation is, in my first week I realized just how desperate things are and how many challenges the people face on a daily basis.

On the day of my arrival to Taiz, January 24, 2018, violence escalated along the front lines around the city, and in the last few days it has been extremely heavy. Sadly, this is daily life for the people here.

A Harsh Reality

Over the last three days we have treated over 117 war-wounded people, and the numbers continue to grow as we speak. As the conflict intensified, the emergency rooms and the operating theaters were overflowing with wounded patients—we received approximately 70 patients in one day. We treated people injured by bullets,  shrapnel, and landmines. It was an extremely shocking scene to arrive to.

The hospital staff have been working continuously these past few days, some with very little sleep, while they attempt to stabilize the wounded. Some [patients] made it and some didn’t. The scenes of despair were difficult to observe. The requests for blood donations and body bags drive home the harsh reality for the people of Taiz.

A mother of five told us that her youngest son (16 years old) was wounded by shrapnel while playing football. She had to sell her jewelry to pay for transport to the hospital—jewelry she was saving for the future of her children, rather than to save her children. Her son eventually made his way to our facility and is now in a stable condition.

Constant Fighting

In Yemen there has been constant fighting since the escalation of the conflict in 2015. Unfortunately the situation has not improved much since the first bullets flew three years ago. People in the city are afraid to leave their houses, but our staff are committed to treating the wounded and arrive at the office with resolve. I’m proud to be associated with them.

I hear the continuous sounds of gunfire and shelling from the front lines that are very close to our medical facilities, which puts extra pressure on the staff, both mentally and physically. On an average day this week we heard around five explosions per minute.

Hakim, one our staff members, told his children to stay inside and not leave the house. His daughter asked him, “Then where are you going every day?” It’s stories like this that give you a glimpse of the daily challenges and urgency of this situation.

I am worried about the increased medical needs and the security of all medical staff and facilities. MSF continuously calls on all parties to respect the work we do, keep medical facilities safe, and allow access to medical care to all who need it. We stress that MSF is impartial and neutral, and that our medical services are open to all wounded people, regardless of their affiliation. At the same time, I hope that other humanitarian actors acknowledge the needs in Taiz specifically and Yemen in general and start increasing humanitarian aid. At present, Taiz is one of the most intense conflict zones in the country and the humanitarian needs are extremely high. We are one of very few medical organizations in Taiz. We remain committed to working in Yemen and supporting the population in need.”

"The scenes of despair were difficult to observe. The requests for blood donations and body bags drive home the harsh reality for the people of Taiz."

Arunn Jegan