Inside Yemen

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MARTIN SMITH, Correspondent: [voice-over] When we were in Yemen in May of 2017, we were the only foreign journalists that were able to get permission to enter the country. We wanted to be able to come in and see the consequences of the two-plus years of war and airstrikes by a Saudi-led coalition.

You have the region’s wealthiest country bombing the region’s poorest, and people are not seeing what’s going on. We’re talking thousands of civilians dead.

BOY: [subtitles] It fell and hit the middle of the house. Boom!

MARTIN SMITH: The current war began when the Houthis, a rebel group from northern Yemen, took the capital in 2014. Months later, the Saudis responded with a massive air campaign.

And there’s a lot of blame to go around here. The Houthis have blocked aid shipments, detained and even tortured their opponents, and they’ve prevented human rights organizations from doing their work. But nothing has caused as much death and destruction as the Saudi bombs.

We went to the site of a funeral bombing. It had taken place late last year. And the Saudis say they mistook it for a gathering of Houthi officials.

[on camera] You were standing right here.

MAN: [subtitles] The hall was packed with people. There was a huge explosion. I got out of the hall, but some of my family who were outside when it happened rushed inside to help our guests. But those rescuers were all killed in the second strike. They didn’t even have a chance to help.

MARTIN SMITH: [voice-over] It was what’s called a “double tap”. As people ran back inside to save lives, a second missile hit. [About] 150 people were died there, 400 to 500 people were injured. This man says he lost 26 members of his family.

[on camera] The Saudis say this was a mistake, that they didn’t intend to bomb a funeral.

MAN: [subtitles] It was not a mistake. That was not the first time they bombed a funeral.

MARTIN SMITH: [voice-over] We were taken to other bombing sites by our Houthi minders, but the fact is you can see the war in Yemen wherever you go. It’s not always immediately evident.

We were in one supermarket in the capital, Sanaa, and it was a fairly well stocked supermarket. It looked like a lot of supermarkets in the U.S. We then noticed that people were paying not with cash but with coupons.

SHOPPER: It’s the first month we get these coupons, the first time the employees in the country receive such coupons, because we have not received a salary.

MARTIN SMITH: [voice-over] We ran into people who were working and hadn’t been paid in many, many months. The whole banking system had pretty much collapsed, so the cash just wasn’t there. That’s just a small example of how you see the war affecting people’s daily lives everywhere you go. It’s not just the jets you hear overhead or the buildings that are bombed or the airport that’s demolished. It’s the knock-on effects of the war on infrastructure.

When we came into town, what struck me right away was the amount of garbage on the streets. The garbage workers hadn’t been paid in eight months. The rains came, washing through the garbage. Bacteria carried into the water supply. People drinking bad water.

And they were hit by a cholera epidemic. Cholera simply dehydrates you quickly, so that anything you ingest, any water you drink or food you eat just completely passes through your system and you get no nutrients out of it.

NURSE: She is very tired because of the exhaustion from the electrolyte imbalance that she has. She can’t control herself now until she gets enough fluid.

MARTIN SMITH: The World Health Organization is saying that they expect more than 700,000 cases of cholera and that 2,100 people have died. Most of those are children.

The hospital we visited, they were already beyond capacity. The nurses and doctors were suffering from a lack of medicines and equipment. And they were there working in spite of the fact that they hadn’t been paid.

NURSE: We don’t get salary. Last salary I got was in September [2016] only. If I will not work, then they will die. And maybe tomorrow I’ll be sick, and nobody will see me because of no salary.

MARTIN SMITH: People often ask why the Saudis are bombing Yemen. It’s a question for the Saudis. They’ll tell you that the Houthis are a proxy of their archrival, Iran. And the Houthis are getting some Iranian support and training, but the extent is unclear. And certainly, they lack the firepower of the Saudis.

Parts of the country have been isolated because of bomb strikes on bridges. People on the ground in Yemen are suffering. They’re caught in the crossfire of this war.

In Hajjah, we went to a hospital. And I met a nurse there who showed me pictures she’d taken a day or two before of a young boy who came in severely malnourished and died.

NURSE: [subtitles] Of course, one gets very upset. All of us here do. We do our job and we love the child. And in the end, they pass away. It’s hard.

MARTIN SMITH: [voice-over] She then was called away to go take care of a new severe malnutrition patient. A mother came in with her child, it was a little girl, named Aaleen, a 7-month-old baby.

NURSE: [subtitles] For sure, it’s a consequence of the war. The war is behind the malnourishment. And it is only getting worse. The cases have increased. There is a food shortage.

[to baby’s mother] How are your living conditions at home?

MOTHER: [subtitles] Terrible.

MARTIN SMITH: There were always malnutrition cases in Yemen, but the nurse told us that the number of cases had more than doubled since the war.

MARTIN SMITH: And maybe an hour later, another mother came in with her daughter. Ruqayyah, her name was, was a 5-year-old girl. Ruqayyah had come from an IDP, an internally displaced persons camp that was quite a ways away up near the Saudi border, traveled several hours because the hospital up near her had been bombed.

NURSE: [subtitles] As a result of these catastrophes, they don’t have the means to travel from their areas, which are usually very far from ours. So they wait.

Things are getting worse. We say that there is hope for things to get better, but it’s worse. Disease is on the rise. Malnutrition is on the rise. And the wars are getting more intense because they’re not stopping the airstrikes on Yemen. And it mostly affects children.

MARTIN SMITH: [on camera] And who do you blame for the war?

NURSE: [subtitles] For the war? I blame this nation and the foreign countries. That’s how I see it, both sides. They’re attacking the weak. That’s who they are targeting. They’re not targeting the strong, just the poor and the weak in Yemen.

MARTIN SMITH: [voice-over] We had to leave the hospital before I knew what the fate of those two girls was going to be. I don’t know what happened to them. What I do know is that health workers in Yemen say that every 10 minutes, a child dies of preventable causes.

Americans may not be aware of American involvement in the war in Yemen, but Yemenis in Sanaa and in northern Yemen certainly know where the weapons are coming from.

Just a few days after we arrived, there was a huge rally in the middle of Sanaa called the Say No to American Terrorism rally. Thousands gathered to protest the arrival of President Trump in Riyadh, where he announced his intention to approve a $110 billion arms package to the Saudis.

PROTESTER: We respect the United States of America, and we hold respect in our hearts. But we came here in order to express our outrage against the United States policy.

CROWD: [subtitles] America is the mother of terrorism!

MARTIN SMITH: It was pretty evident that we were an American TV crew, but absolutely no hostility was directed at us. There was only a sense that our government was to blame, and ordinary Yemenis want the world to be aware of what’s going on.

[The death toll in Yemen has reached over 10,000. Seven million people are facing famine. Recently, the UN declared Yemen the largest humanitarian crisis in the world. Still, very few foreign journalists have been permitted to enter the country.]

1h 24m
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