BBC Radio 4 Today Programme 6.44-6.49 today. An item on Yemen. Please note: whilst it is laudible for the Today programme at last to do an item on Yemen, and it is excellent, why oh why put it on at 6.44, when the highest listening time on the Today Programme is an hour later. You can listen to this piece by going to BBC Radio 4 and move the cursor to 6.44.am.
More than 1600 people have been killed in Yemen in the last 3 months. Many of them have died in Saudi airstrikes on cities controlled by the Houthi rebels, including the capital Sana’a. The Saudis, who support the country’s now exiled President Hadi oppose the Houthis that they think are backed by Iran. Given ongoing fighting and risk of kidnap by Islamic extremists very few Western journalists are in the country but with the help of her mobile phone as a recording device Dr. Natalie Roberts with Medicine Sans Frontieres has given an account of her life in North Yemen to our correspondent Mike Thompson.
NR “I am in the MSF car now heading out of town to visit the health centre that’s out in the countryside”. 36 year old Dr. Natalie Roberts from Wrexham is in Amran province just north of Sana’a but her work in providing emergency health care takes her all over this dangerous terrain. “The roads are targeted, cars are often hit and as I’m driving now I can see a truck that was bombed a few hours ago, still burning. It was carrying apples and wheat, the sacks of wheat are on fire. Every few hundred metres you see another burned out vehicle. Every single bridge on the road has been bombed out. It’s just an intimidating experience to drive up and down this road and be aware that at any minute an aeroplane could be coming. We have a flag on the roof but it doesn’t feel that it gives me much protection when you arrive at scenes like this.”
NR. “I’m in the Emergency Room at the Health Centre that we have been supporting in the mountains of North Yemen, really quite near the border. It’s an area that has had very heavy bombing. All the villages and towns nearby sustain air strikes most days.”
MT. With little or no mains electricity in Yemen, clinics like this rely on noisy generators running on scarce and very expensive fuel supplies. Many of them needing emergency help here are young children.
NR. “There’s a six year old boy here with a piece of shrapnel in his eye that he sustained this morning. It means he has lost his eye. He’s being very brave, he’s lying on a bed covered in blood and his mother is talking to him. We have already had three trauma cases this morning and it’s 11.30am. ”
NR. “That’s the call to evening prayer you hear all around Yemen. Today it’s more exciting for people because the rumour is a ceasefire has been declared. There’s a strong rumour it will start this evening. Everyone is very much in hope of that. This is a desperate population and they need some respite from the fighting.”
NR. “Morning now, it’s really quiet. Last night at midnight we were all hoping that this ceasefire that was about to be implemented, but by three o’clock in the morning I started to get text messages saying that there was more planes bombing in Sana’a and Saada governates. Really, really disappointed.”.
MT. There was some brighter news from Aden recently, when a ship carrying UN food supplies finally managed to get through to the port after waiting for weeks, but it has been estimated that the continuing violence threatens the survival of six million people across the country who are in urgent need of help.
NR. “Lunchtime and there’s a warplane circling overhead again. It happens at least once an hour. This place really makes me concerned about planes because you know that if a plane is flying overhead it’s a warplane. There’s no other planes flying over Yemen just now. So you are just waiting for the bomb to drop.”
MT. Dr. Roberts previously worked in Syria and Ukraine and will spend another month in Yemen with this threat as she tries to help local people, who are too afraid or unable to leave their homes. But given the daily risk to herself, does she think of abandoning her contract and getting out?
NR. “All the time, yes, I’ve been having these moments for the last three years. Often there’s times I lie there particularly at night when there is bombing and I think I don’t quite know why I am here. But this is the first place I have been to with no media. I just haven’t met a journalist at all. That means it’s not in the public eye. The public should be aware of the disaster and the crisis that is happening in this country.”.