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Aid Manager For Mercy Corps Shares View From Inside Yemen


At the end of last week, we saw two developments in Yemen's civil war, a conflict that has dragged on for nearly four years and created one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. The Senate passed a resolution to end U.S. military assistance for Saudi Arabia's offensive in Yemen. The U.S. has provided weapons, intelligence and refueling for Saudi jets. Separately peace talks have resulted in a cease-fire agreement for the city of Hodeidah, which is a crucial port for incoming food and humanitarian assistance.

Let's get a view now from inside Yemen, where the U.N. says more than a quarter million people are on the brink of starvation. Dania Alsharif is a project manager for the aid organization Mercy Corps. And she's joining us now from the city of Aden, which is down the coast from Hodeidah. Welcome.


CHANG: So I want to start with the city of Hodeidah. What are you hearing from your team on the ground there? Does it feel like there is a lull in the city now?

ALSHARIF: Well, we've received reports of clashes and airstrikes - that they have intensified actually in the past few days following the signing of the agreement. Civilians are still fleeing the violence. And we are still unable to provide aid and assistance to some of the civilians who are still caught in the frontlines. And this agreement is going to get into effect tomorrow. So this is a very critical time for Yemen.

CHANG: But you're saying that the fighting is directly interfering with the distribution of aid right now?

ALSHARIF: We continue to work wherever we feel that it's safe to work. But operations have been severely hampered by these ongoing clashes in Hodeidah - on the ground, airstrikes. We saw that they are damaging the infrastructure. It's also caused the risk on the lives of our team and as well as the people that we are helping - this in addition to certain cross points our team are not allowed to enter.

CHANG: And as we said, Hodeidah is a port city. So can you explain how important it is in terms of distributing food and aid to the rest of the people in Yemen?

ALSHARIF: Yeah, so Hodeidah has been a lifeline to the Yemeni people. Yemen, prior to the conflict, imports 90 percent of its food, medicine and fuel needs. And Hodeidah city is where most of these commercial goods, as well as the aid supplies, come from. Many of the goods included in our humanitarian food basket, for instance - like flour, canned beans, sugar and so on - it is being purchased locally because we're trying to support the local market. However, it's not just the aid supplies that need to enter through Hodeidah but also the commercial goods. And having this access disrupted caused like sky-rocket increases in the prices of essential commodities and affected the normal family's ability to buy the essential needs, like food, medicine and so on.

CHANG: How hopeful are you that this cease-fire will actually be respected by both sides?

ALSHARIF: We are cautiously hopeful. And we see this definitely as an opportunity. But this is only the first step. There is still a long way to go.

CHANG: So yeah, if the cease-fire does indeed take hold, what is the most important thing, in your opinion, that needs to happen for the situation to improve in Yemen?

ALSHARIF: Well, the most important thing is to sustain the access from the port and also to allow the time for the economy to recover for children to go back to school for basic services, which has been heavily destroyed. There are so many problems with water infrastructure, for instance - waste removals. A lot of the areas are left behind heavily mined.

CHANG: You said mine - that there are mines prevalent throughout the areas?

ALSHARIF: Yeah, there are a lot of areas around where Hodeidah where it has been heavily mined, which makes it difficult for families to return home.

CHANG: Yeah.

ALSHARIF: So even if the cease fire-takes place in full effect as of tomorrow, the rebuilding is going to be a long process.

CHANG: Dania Alsharif is the project manager for the aid organization Mercy Corps. We reached her in Yemen over Skype. Thank you so much for joining us.

ALSHARIF: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.