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“The impact of never-ending war is that in order to survive, you cannot live in fear”

Action against Hunger remains at the forefront of the humanitarian response since the beginning of the war in 2015. Aid workers put a special emphasis on alleviating the suffering of internally displaced people and vulnerable host communities.

Caitlin Cockcroft, Head of Mental Health and Care Practices Department is one of them. She shares with us her experience and an insight into the daily lives of her Yemeni colleagues.


“After a year working on the Yemen mission, and 10 months in-country between Sana’a, the capital, in the North of the country and Aden, the seat of the government and de-facto capital in the South, I have only just begun to comprehend the complexity of the war in Yemen and the impact it has had and continues to have on its people. The humanitarian situation in the country is, obviously, incredibly vast and wide-ranging and it feels almost flippant to talk about the fact it’s the largest humanitarian crisis worldwide because there are so many layers of impact on so many different people across the country, that it’s almost not just one humanitarian crisis, but multifarious ones.”

In some areas there is no food to eat, in others, people cannot afford to buy any. Some people are psychologically traumatised from what they have witnessed, heard, or experienced. Everyone’s story is the same, and yet no one’s is. Every single person in Yemen, every single one of the 29 million people is affected, dramatically and irreparably by the conflict. Their livelihoods have been lost, impacted, or changed entirely. Their decision-making power, independence, and self-sustenance is irrevocably changed. Their relationships, the social fabric, and the traditions have had to bend to meet the new ways of life that conflict creates. The baseline of what is normal has changed. The new generation of Yemeni children, being born into conflict, have known nothing but war. Every person’s way of thinking, decision-making, coping and mental health is now in the framework of war, which is something that I don’t imagine can just go away.

Every time there was an airstrike in Sana’a, the national staff would say to me ‘this is normal, we’re used to this’, and I wouldn’t believe them, until it became normal for me too, and I felt naive for having questioned their indifference. What I realised is that trauma, consistent, unrelenting trauma may become ‘normal’ for people, but it must be impacting their body, their organs, reigniting their stress response every single time, even if they don’t consciously notice it any more. They would tell me they were fine, that they didn’t notice it, they didn’t care, they weren’t scared, but their face, or their instinctive jump when the bomb landed would tell a different story. The impact of never-ending war is that in order to survive, you cannot live in fear, so you have to shut down that part of your brain that reminds you the danger you are in. The way they would explain their fear was through the children, ‘we are fine, we are used to this, but the children cry and scream when they hear the planes. If we heard the planes in the night, we would wake the children and start banging on pots and pans in the basement in order to make the noises a game, but now they’re older, they see through it and they just cry and scream’.

The humanitarian situation in the country has deteriorated, of course, since I arrived. But there is also a great network of national and international non-governmental organisations working hard every single day, all year round, to ensure that basic needs are met for the people in the direst situations. If those organisations were not there, there would be an exceptionally higher number of fatalities, injuries, and people suffering with no respite or hope.”


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