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Yemen is in one of the world's worst humanitarian crises

DON GONYEA, HOST:

Now for a story about what might have been if it weren't for a decade of war. Yemen has become one of the world's worst humanitarian crises. The fighting there is between a militia backed by Iran against a coalition supported by planes and troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Life was hard for most people before the war, but there were reasons for hope, at least as Yemenis look back now. NPR's Fatma Tanis brings us this rare view from Yemen in the City of Taiz. Hi, Fatma.

FATMA TANIS, BYLINE: Hi, Don.

GONYEA: Tell us a bit about the promise of Yemen before the war.

TANIS: Well, the country has a lot of natural resources, which the world may have forgotten about. It produces some of the most highly prized coffee in the world. It has incredible ancient architecture, lots of potential for tourism. And there are oil reserves, too, which are now controlled by Saudi Arabia. Ten years ago, there was hope that we'd see some of that potential after their dictator was ousted. But it all changed when Houthis had an uprising in the north, and it blew up into a proxy war between Iran, which backed the Houthis, and Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which backed the Yemeni government. Still, Yemenis here are very aware of their country's potential. You know, they speak reverently of how green and fertile the land is with beaches and desert and mountains. But the war has really gotten in the way of all of that.

GONYEA: The most critical toll has been on the people themselves - hundreds and thousands estimated to have died from sickness and hunger. You've been seeing a lot of people directly wounded in the war. What have you been hearing from them?

TANIS: Yes, I went to a prosthetic center in Taiz here. At least 400 new patients came to this center in the last year alone despite the war slowing down mostly because of land mines. More than 100 of the victims were young children. And all around the city, you can see people with prosthetic arms or legs going about their day. Then, there are survivors of Saudi airstrikes, which also took many civilian lives. You know, the U.S. initially supported the Saudi air campaign, but all the civilian deaths made it sort of cut back on that support.

I met a man who had lost 10 members of his family in a single night. His name is Marwan Saleh Saif, and it took him six days to recover their remains. Eight years after that airstrike, he's still searching for justice.

MARWAN SALEH SAIF: (Non-English language spoken).

TANIS: He says he wants an acknowledgment and apology from Saudi Arabia and for it to repair the damage to buildings at least. But so far, he's heard nothing but a denial that the attack happened, and it haunts him to this day.

GONYEA: And tell us a little about the front-line city where you are.

TANIS: So Taiz is a divided city, very much symbolic of the war. You know, the north and east parts of the city are controlled by the Houthi militias. The rest, including where I am, is controlled by the Saudi coalition, which backs the government. And life is really difficult here. You know, the economy is devastated. There no longer is a single currency in Yemen. Both sides have their own bank notes that make the other worthless. Many families are struggling to buy the basics like food. And the signs of war are everywhere. Buildings are covered in bullet marks or, you know, with gaping holes from rockets and missiles. Now, there are peace talks underway, but Yemenis tell me that even if the war ended today, the country would still need extensive help for a long time.

GONYEA: And if you ask them what the war is all about, what kind of answers do you get?

TANIS: Well, first of all, they roll their eyes and say it's all been for nothing. They say that in the past nine years, their country has become a battleground for other countries' rivalries. I spoke with a 21-year-old college student, Sahar Rageh, about this. Let's hear some of what she said.

SAHAR RAGEH: (Non-English language spoken).

TANIS: She says, "if the international players leave us Yemenis alone, we can sort this out amongst ourselves in a matter of days." You know, there's also a backdrop of sectarianism in this conflict. The Houthis are Shia, and the government side are mostly Sunni. That was not so pronounced before, but the war has prompted more extremism on both sides, according to Yemenis. And one thing they all agree on is that the war really has them at their wit's end. They're just worn down and desperate for it to end at this point.

GONYEA: That's NPR's Fatma Tanis in Taiz, Yemen. Thank you.

TANIS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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