Yemen: Life under airstrikes

MSF doctor Roberto Scaini tends to a young patient at Haydan hospital, Saada governorate.
Yemen 2019 © Agnes Varraine-Leca/MSF
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In western Yemen’s Saada governorate, aerial bombardments are a deadly fact of life. In the ongoing conflict that has gripped the country since 2015, Saada has borne the brunt of airstrikes carried out by the Saudi and Emirati-led coalition (SELC), according to the independent monitoring group the Yemen Data Project. Almost one-quarter, 23 percent, of all airstrikes recorded in Yemen since March 2015 hit targets in Saada—many of them civilian.

In addition to military targets, airstrikes have hit markets, mosques, and hospitals in the governorate, resulting in the injury or death of 17,729 civilians from 2015 to 2019. In 2015, a Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital in Saada’s Haydan district was bombed by the coalition, forcing the facility’s closure and cutting off access to lifesaving health care for thousands of people.

In 2017, MSF returned to Haydan to rebuild the hospital. After the progressive restoration of services, the hospital reopened fully in 2018. In that year, MSF staff provided 14,000 emergency and 3,800 prenatal consultations at the hospital. More than 1,500 people were admitted to the inpatient department.

"Every day at the hospital in Haydan, we give free health care to children, to mothers in labor, and we also have an Emergency Room," said MSF doctor Roberto Scaini. "Just to give you an idea of what it means to work here nowadays, we admit roughly two to five children every day. Mostly they arrive here with a respiratory tract infection, usually severe, which means they need oxygen and antibiotic therapy. We also often treat cases of measles, whooping cough and diphtheria, that are easily preventable with vaccination."

Here, residents of Saada share their stories of life under the airstrikes.

Ayman stands outside the remains of his home in Saada city. Twenty-eight members of his family died when the house was bombed by an SELC-led airstrike in 2015. He was one of only three survivors. He remembers the screams from beneath the rubble, and that he could do nothing to help. His brother, who owned a barber shop, was among those killed in the bombing. Since then, Ayman has managed the shop. This is his first time visiting the site since the bombing occurred.

Medical activities in Haydan hospital, Saada governorate
Sherif, 33, works as a watchman for MSF.
Yemen 2019 © Agnes Varraine-Leca/MSF

Sherif, 33, used to work as an English teacher in Sahar Al Sham, near the Saudi border, before his family was displaced by the war. They first went to Saada, where he drove a motorbike taxi. After a while they moved to Haydan, where he now works at the hospital as a watchman for MSF. Sherif used to volunteer as a teacher in Haydan, but says that students and teachers alike are afraid to go to the district’s school since it was hit by an airstrike in 2015. He now home-schools his six-year-old son. 

Medical activities in Haydan hospital, Saada governorate
Mahmoud, 22, went to Haydan hospital to get a medical consultation for his son.
Yemen 2019 © Agnes Varraine-Leca/MSF

When Mahmoud’s father passed away, he quit school and started working to provide for his four sisters and the rest of his family. He was 16 years old. Now 22, he has brought his young son for a medical consultation at Haydan hospital, a two-hour walk from his home in Waadi Ben Jalaat. He says his village has been hit by airstrikes three times. He fears his son will have to live the same life he has.