On May 16, the first commercial flight in six years took off from Yemen’s Sana’a international airport as part of an UN-brokered truce. Leaders worldwide welcomed the resumption of direct flights between Sana’a and Amman, Jordan.
The Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, welcomed the resumption of flights. “I would like to congratulate all Yemenis on this important and long-awaited step. I hope this provides some relief to the Yemenis who need to seek medical treatment abroad, pursue education and business opportunities, or reunite with loved ones,” Mr. Grundberg said, “This should be a moment of coming together to do more, to start repairing what the war has broken, and to follow through on all the Truce commitments to build trust and move towards resuming a political process to sustainably end the conflict.”
Grundberg said that all parties to the conflict had shown responsibility and made concessions and compromises in reaching this far. He said he hoped that they would move forward and extend the truce.
Sana’a-based freelance journalist Ahmad Algohbary said that people were thrilled with this truce and the resumption of flights. “But they want the war to be over,” he added. “This is only a temporary truce, but people are very happy. I posted on Twitter about an older man when he arrived on a flight in Yemen. He knelt and kissed the floor, and he was so happy. We cried when we saw this.”
Although people are pleased with the temporary truce and resumption of flights, the war has taken an enormous economic and humanitarian toll on the country. Twenty million people in Yemen face hunger, including nearly two million severely malnourished children. The humanitarian and economic costs are devastating, and the country’s ailing infrastructure is collapsing. Public electricity is virtually nonexistent in many parts of the country, including Sana’a, Yemen’s most populous city with more than two million people . Hospitals cannot provide many critical services, and children cannot study in the evenings.
Algohbary’s family runs two dentist clinics, so they have a source of income to sustain themselves. “About 20 percent of families in Yemen have their own source of income. Around 60 percent depend on government salaries, and the remaining 20 percent are dependent upon money transfers from relatives abroad, and aid from international and local NGOs,” he says. “Just imagine, Yemenis have been living like this since 2015.”
Appalled by the conditions in Yemen, Algohbary started a non-profit in 2016 called Yemen Hope and Relief. The organization has facilitated medical treatment and care for several malnourished children and provides food supplies for families in need. It has helped many Yemenis, but not all stories have a happy ending. Algohbary broke down in tears while talking about a young boy who was treated for malnutrition. His health improved but some time later he died of cholera. Every ten minutes a child dies in Yemen from preventable and treatable causes, including severe hunger. Save the Children estimates that around 85,000 children under the age of five in Yemen may have died because of extreme hunger since the war began.
“You know if the Saudi-led coalition did not intervene, I think that the situation would not be this bad. Imagine the money that’s already been spent in eight years. They spent trillions of dollars.”
Algohbary says that lasting peace would require reparations and a public apology by the Saudis. “That is the only way. Even if they don’t apologize, people need reparations.” Algohbary says that when Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS) started the war, he said he would finish the Houthis in two weeks or a month. “It’s been eight years. He couldn’t do anything. They couldn’t even get into Sana’a. They lost a lot of money. And now they will have to pay reparations.”
As a Yemeni, Algohbary is against any political party that harms people, stops their salaries, or puts people in jails. But he hates the interference from the Saudis. “Whether it is the Houthis or other political parties, we would resolve it internally if we see something bad from them. I may not like the political parties in Yemen, but I hate the intervention by the Saudis.”
“I don’t like the US and UK arms sales to the Saudis. They are selling billions of arms to build their economy,” he says. The US and UK talk about human rights, but they continue selling arms to Saudi Arabia that kill innocent people in Yemen. “The US and UK should stop selling arms to the Saudis and tell Saudi Arabia that it must stop even buying from other countries, Russia, China, any country.” Algohbary says if they believe in human rights as they say, then they should stop the war. They can do what’s right and do it without question. “I love American people, and I love English people. I have many friends in those countries. But their policies have two faces. One is good and beautiful – human rights, international NGOs, and aid organizations -and the other one is bad and ugly – building their economy and thinking only about salaries for people working in arms companies. They don’t care about the bloodshed in Yemen. They don’t want the war to be over. Imagine the war is over in Yemen. No bullet gets out from a gun, nobody is killed. If all countries stop supplying arms to the Saudis, this war would be over immediately.”
If the Saudis stop their war, the Houthis no longer have any excuse to fight. Algohbary feels that America, the UK, and other big countries should announce that they will not give the Saudis any more weapons. The truce could be extended, and Sana’a airport could be entirely opened to every country in the world. “It starts an internal negotiation between the political parties led by the UN envoy to Yemen. If the official government does not accept this then the north is controlled by the Houthis. The south is controlled by them. We are okay with separation. We want to live in peace even though I don’t like Yemen to be separated,” he says.
The situation for journalists is dire in Yemen. Algohbary says there are around six or seven journalists in the country reporting for international media. But it is not safe for them to write freely. “Even those who are in Sana’a, even when I write, if I say something critical of the Saudis or Yemen’s political parties, I get threats.”
The civil war that began in Yemen in 2014 continues to ravage the country and significantly negatively impacts press freedom. Journalists live in fear of abduction by the Houthis in Sana’a or the internationally recognized government. Per Reporters Without Borders, four imprisoned journalists have been sentenced to death by the Houthis on charges of spying for Saudi Arabia and are facing execution.