1705888955 Climbing in the Red Sea This is what Yemenis are

Climbing in the Red Sea: This is what Yemenis are doing

Serkan Eren from Stuttgart managed to get out of the capital Sanaa, which has been under the control of the Shiite Houthi militia since 2014, just in time last night. Just hours later, strikes by the American and British military hit Houthi targets in Sanaa last Friday. These are reactions to the ongoing attacks on merchant ships in the Red Sea. “It was pure luck that I managed to get out. It is strange to leave the employees and especially the many children behind, in the unknown”, says the founder of the humanitarian organization Stelp over the phone.

In Sanaa, Stelp (from STuttgart hELPs) has been running soup kitchens for around 2,300 students since 2019. He has never seen so many hungry people, says Eren. Most children realize immediately that they are malnourished. “We have so many street children who want to enroll in schools just to get one hot meal a day,” says the 39-year-old.

Teachers beg for food for their own children

There is almost no drinking water supply; he spoke to children who don't know that there is running water elsewhere. He reports on teachers who have not received a salary for months but are forced to work by the Houthis and beg in community kitchens so they can take something home for their hungry children.

For years, Serkan Eren, to whom Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier recently presented the Federal Cross of Merit for his commitment, has been trying to travel to Yemen to see for himself. The former teacher and physical trainer founded the humanitarian organization after a serious car accident in 2009, which has since operated in 14 countries.

In 2021, they set up a tent school in the Dharawan camp, about 50 kilometers north of Sanaa. Internally displaced people live there in patchwork huts. “As soon as the bell rings, the kids run out to eat. People here feel forgotten by the world,” says Eren. He hasn't seen a single foreigner in the last two weeks. International aid to Yemen has been declining for years and international donor conferences have raised less money than needed.

Yemen: "People here feel forgotten by the world": Serkan Eren (center) at a tent school for refugee children run by Stelp.Open detailed view

“People here feel forgotten by the world”: Serkan Eren (center) at a tent school for refugee children run by Stelp.

(Photo: Step)

International aid organizations have trouble entering all areas, often having to pass through multiple checkpoints to reach the southern parts of the country. The journey was also difficult for Eren; In previous years the visa failed, this time he entered via Oman. A driver was waiting for him; things were chaotic at the Houthi checkpoints, he says. Houthi once confiscated his passport for three days because they discovered an Afghan stamp. “I thought it would be catastrophic, I've been to Afghanistan and Syria before, and also Ukraine. But here the kids aren't begging at the traffic lights, they're banging on the windows out of pure hunger, because we're in a pickup truck.” money”, says Eren.

For years, Yemen was considered the poorest country on the Arabian Peninsula. But since the war, the humanitarian situation has become increasingly dire: more than 50 percent of Yemenis have lost their jobs since the conflict began. It all started when Iranian-backed Houthi fighters invaded Sanaa in 2014 and forced President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi from office. Since then, there has been not only a civil war, but also a proxy war between regional archenemies: the Houthis are largely supported by Iran and Hadi's government troops by Saudi Arabia.

Yemen: Houthi fighters at one of many protest demonstrations against the US and Britain in recent days.Yemen: Houthi fighters at one of many protest demonstrations against the US and Britain in recent days.Open detailed view

Houthi fighters at one of many protest demonstrations against the US and Britain in recent days.

(Photo: AP/AP)

Before the war in the Middle East, there were signs of tension between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia, who wanted to withdraw from the conflict to save face in the face of international criticism and rapprochement with Iran. But after the Hamas massacre in Israel, on October 7, the ensuing war in Gaza and Houthi attacks on merchant ships in the Red Sea, Riyadh could be drawn into the Western military coalition.

For Yemenis, the new escalation comes at an inopportune time: more than 21 million people are in need of humanitarian support, around 17 million people do not have safe access to food – and, according to the World Food Programme, more than two million of children suffer from acute illnesses. malnutrition.

Abeer Etefa, spokesperson for the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) for the region, informs SZ that the organization has stopped distributing food in the north and center of Yemen, that is, in the Houthi areas, since November. “We are currently negotiating with the Houthis about prioritizing aid to Yemenis who are particularly suffering from hunger,” Etefa said over the phone. Negotiations were slow, the Houthis got in the way; according to Etefa, they wanted nine million Yemenis to continue to receive food equally, because otherwise they feared social tensions.

But WFP distinguishes between five stages of hunger, ranging from adequate nutrition to the most extreme form of hunger. The organization estimates that 3.5 million Yemenis living in Houthi areas are particularly at risk. They are considered a humanitarian emergency (IPC Phase 4) or are on the brink of famine (IPC Phase 5) because they do not have access to food. “Unfortunately, we have to use our capabilities in a very targeted way, since the war in Ukraine the economic situation has worsened. Everything has become more expensive, not only food, but also transport routes”, says Etefa. Furthermore, there have been so many conflicts in the region for years that there is “donation fatigue” on the part of donors.

PAM and Stelp are following the escalation in the Red Sea with great concern. “People in need mainly fear that the Houthis will continue to set fires and that the Americans will attack the port of Hodeidah,” says Serkan Eren from Stelp. Much of the humanitarian aid is delivered through this port.

But there is no imminent easing of the situation in sight; The Houthis are under great pressure internally, given the catastrophic economic and humanitarian situation. Through attacks on Western merchant ships in the Red Sea, which they present as an act of solidarity with the people of Gaza, they also hope to improve their image – and a new scapegoat on whom they can blame the current problems in Yemen.