European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations

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An aid worker on Yemen: “It has been heart-breaking to see what has happened to this amazing country”

Yemen © ICRC
Since March 2015, Yemen has been experiencing a devastating civil war between forces loyal to the internationally-recognised government and those allied to the Houthi movement. © ICRC

"The first time I visited Yemen was when I was still a student in Arabic language and literature at university in The Netherlands. During the summer of 1998 I took a language course in one of the language institutes in Sanaa. Ever since then, I have been fascinated by the country’s rich history and culture, and especially by its fascinating people." Kenneth Grant, an outgoing technical assistant with the EU in Yemen, looks back at his mission to assist the aid effort in one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters.

Kenneth Grant

By Kenneth Grant, technical assistant, EU Humanitarian Aid Operations

"Over the years, I have visited Yemen several times. I worked in Yemen during the Arab Spring uprising for an aid organisation in 2011-2012 and I was really excited when I got posted to Yemen again with the EU’s humanitarian office in September 2014.

Since March 2015, Yemen has been experiencing a devastating civil war between forces loyal to the internationally-recognised government and those allied to the Houthi movement.  It has been heart-breaking to see what has happened to this amazing country and the suffering the war is causing for ordinary people. Yemen is one of the worst humanitarian crises the world is witnessing these days, if not the biggest. Since the war started, life has become extremely difficult for average Yemenis. Basic things that we in Europe take for granted such as food, clean drinking water, healthcare, and education have become inaccessible for a large part of the population. Just imagine how it must feel for a parent to not be able to give your children enough to eat when they are hungry or go to a doctor when they are ill. All in all, an estimated 22.2 million people – 80 percent of the population – are in need of humanitarian assistance or protection. This includes 11.3 million deemed to be in acute need; an increase of more than one million people since June 2017. The country is also suffering the largest cholera outbreak ever recorded in modern history, with over one million suspected cases reported in 2017 and over 2 200 deaths.

Yemen by ICRC

An estimated 22.2 million people – 80 percent of the population – are in need of humanitarian assistance or protection. © ICRC

As a technical assistant with the EU, I have been responsible for managing EU funding for humanitarian programmes in Yemen. Considering the scale of the crises, the portfolio of EU-funded humanitarian projects  has significantly increased since I started my posting in 2014. Our interventions range from shelter and food aid for people displaced by the conflict to provision of basic healthcare.

Although I have worked in many other humanitarian crises before, it was the visits to the therapeutic feeding centres which impacted me most at the personal level. These are centres which, with the support of EU funding, provide life-saving treatment to severely malnourished children. It is very hard to see small children suffer from a war they have no part in.

Yemen by ICRC

Yemen is also suffering the largest cholera outbreak ever recorded in modern history. © ICRC

Luckily I have also been able to make several visits to children back in their villages after they recovered. One of them was living in a village in the far north of the country close to Yemen’s border with Saudi Arabia. The family lived in a straw hut in an arid desert-like environment. However, after the child had been treated for malnutrition, the EU also provided the family with a small kitchen garden to grow fresh food. This meant the family could get on with their lives without constantly worrying about where the next meal would come from.

It has been an intense and rewarding three years with the EU in Yemen. Peace cannot return soon enough to allow people to rebuild their lives. Hopefully one day there will no longer be a need for humanitarian workers, and students and tourists will return to Yemen to get to know the country as I did."

Last updated
12/03/2018