A western reporter sneaks into Aden and finds a humanitarian crisis in progress

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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman and this is The World. If you happen to be counting, it’s day #78 of the US-backed bombing campaign in Yemen. But Yemen is a messy war that can seem so far away and it feels a lot of the world has forgotten about it. One reporter who has stayed on the story and has not forgotten is Iona Craig. She joins us now. Iona, you’re in London but last week--just last week--you were in Yemen. Ports are blocked, airports closed; how’d you get into the country?


Iona Craig: It’s not easy. I went in by sea. I can’t actually go into too much detail of how I got there because those who took me asked me not to because the security situation, really.


Werman: You were in Aden. Why did you go there?


Craig: Because it was the easiest or least difficult, probably, place to get to. I tried to get out of the city to try and head up to Sanaa, to the capital. The roads were just too dangerous. Even whilst I was there, there was a public bus with civilians on it that was hit in an airstrike.


Werman: Yeah, I mean another one of those happened today, killing 20 passengers on a bus. What did you do while you were in Aden?


Craig: Well, I obviously spent time going round the various hospitals that are still open, I visited the front lines, I crossed over on to the Houthi side of town, the Houthis combined with the supporters of Ali Abdullah Saleh, those military units, they now control two-thirds of Aden. So, I crossed over a couple of times into that territory where much of the population has left and fled from because of the heavy fighting that has basically all but destroyed large parts of the center of the city now.


Werman: What does it feel like, just from the civilian side, in Aden right now? We’re hearing that more than one million Yemenis have been driven from their homes. How’s Aden affected by this flight? What does that look and feel like right now?


Craig: I was expecting it to be bad but it was much, much worse than even I imagined it would be. In Aden, a lot of the IDPs have moved--


Werman: IDPs meaning Internally Displaced People.


Craig: Sorry, yes--a lot of the internally displaced people in Aden have shifted across the city several times, they’ve tried to move continuously from the fighting as it spread. Some have gone by about to Djibouti, others have fled east towards Hadhramaut, but many of them don’t have either the money or the family connections perhaps to do that. So, all the hotels that are still standing are now filled with IDPs; the schools, which are all closed, again, are filled with IDPs. There is a huge food shortage across the city, so even just after I left, the flour ran out entirely and all the bakeries closed. A sack of potatoes was over $80 when previously it was $9, and that’s if you could find one. I didn’t eat any vegetables for the entire time I was there.


Werman: I was going to ask you, what did you eat?


Craig: Fish and rice, which even being there for a few weeks is all well and good, but it obviously gets slightly tedious after a while. But talking to the IDPs, particularly the parents, their biggest concern was they’ve got children there and they’re not eating any vegetables or fresh food now for many weeks. And then obviously the other issue is the health care system. There’s casualties every day from the ongoing conflict between the two sides, and then of course they’re now running out of drugs. So, you’re going in malaria and dengue fever season with a shortage of drugs. There’s now a shortage of medical equipment, as well. The fear of disease is rising because none of the state institutions have been paid, and that includes things like the street cleaners. So, you’ve got piles of rubbish lining the streets, along with sewage as well. So, obviously the concern over disease is very high. And then in the areas hit by the conflict in the center of the city, in the eastern parts of the city, there’s major issues over water because the infrastructure providing the water supply was either hit by airstrikes or deliberately sabotaged.


Werman: How did you find water?


Craig: Well, I was staying on the other side of the city, which has not been affected directly--well, it is now actually--but at that time was not being affected directly by the fighting. So since I’ve left, the water pumping system to that area has been hit, and just speaking to people there in the last couple of days, water is still coming in but literally a trickle.


Werman: What was it like to be in Aden during an airstrike?


Craig: At the moment in Aden actually, it’s sometimes hard to tell initially, depending on where the airstrikes are in the city, whether it’s still artillery or whether that’s an airstrike. The airstrikes tend to shake the ground a bit more than the artillery. Certainly the last night that I was there in the district where I was, there was about four airstrikes not far from where I was staying and that shakes the building. But it’s kind of remarkable when you’re in those situations, how that kind of thing becomes normal quite quickly and you just shrug it off and you get used to it.


Werman: Over time, speaking with you Iona, I think I get a sense what Yemen means to you. Given the people who can’t leave for one reason or another, probably money for the most part, this miserable situation”¦ what was it like for you when it came time to go?


Craig: Although the situation was incredibly depressing there, I met some incredibly brave and inspirational young people--doctors--who were there. These young people have just graduated in their mid and late 20s, they’ve stayed, and they’re not being paid, they’re volunteers--even before the war they were lucky if they were getting $200 a month. But they’re determined to keep going and to try and keep the health care system working. It’s one of the small positives to take away from my visit to Aden.


Werman: Journalist Iona Craig speaking with me from London. Thank you as always, Iona.


Craig: Thanks very much. Good to talk to you.