In Sight

Powerless: A photographer’s journey into Yemen’s shattering war

The war started four years ago — four years of a conflict that has split Yemen in two, with a pro-government coalition supported by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates fighting against a group of rebels, known as the Houthis, for control of the country. In the middle: 28 million Yemenis.

Photographer Lorenzo Tugnoli visited Yemen in June and again in November and December for The Washington Post, witnessing the harrowing effects of a conflict that has claimed the lives of more than 50,000 people and created one of the worst famines in history.

In the parts of the country most affected by the conflict, malnutrition is so widespread that clinics can only accept the most severe cases. In one such clinic in Hajjah, in northwestern Yemen, a 10-year-old girl came in with her father. “She had big sweet eyes and bone-thin arms, but the clinic could not accept her,” Tugnoli said. Her condition was not yet life-threatening, so she was sent back to endure hunger.

“In these moments you feel completely powerless,” Tugnoli said. “Some of these children will not make it, and yet it would not take much to save them.”

Insecurity and famine have become the new normal for thousands of children. It’s not that there isn’t food — fruits and vegetables are readily available at markets across Yemen — but with inflation on the rise because of the conflict, essentials are now out of reach for a majority of the population. Four years of war have made one of the poorest countries in the world even poorer.

Despite recent peace talks, the situation is still volatile as the various factions remain suspicious of one another. On the ground, though, the foot soldiers are often children, the unintended victims of a political fight turned bloody. Tugnoli met some of them on the front line. “An enemy sniper had just shot a couple of rounds at us, but everyone was unharmed. They looked intoxicated and tightly bonded by the experience. The sun was setting over the sea, and apart from the AKs on their shoulders, they could have looked like any group of kids walking back from the beach.”

As 2018 turns into 2019, Yemen’s civil war continues.