Working In The Midst Of Conflict: Life As A Country Director In Yemen

Dr.Purnima Kashyap is the World Food Programme's (WFP) Country Director in Yemen, where she ensures that WFP reaches conflict-affected communities with food. She gives an insight into her life in a country where it isn’t even safe to walk down the street.

“One of the challenges of working in Yemen is that in the current conflict, it can be very unsafe. Fear of kidnappings has increased and explosives are a constant threat. My journey into work each day is by armoured vehicle, sometimes accompanied by a security guard.

Once in the office, there is usually some routine work I do every day, such as meeting staff and overseeing logistics, but very often I have to handle emergency situations. When our food trucks get detained at various checkpoints, it is my job to make sure that every measure is taken to secure their quick release so that life-saving assistance can be delivered to the people in need. During these hard times in Yemen when people are desperate for food, we have to operate in an emergency mode.

Purnima inspects a WFP ship prior to its first voyage to Yemen
Purnima inspects a WFP ship prior to its first voyage to Yemen (Photo: WFP/Yemen).

Working amidst airstrikes

The reality is that Yemen is at war. It has experienced almost uninterrupted airstrikes for four months. Even before the conflict, Yemen was the poorest country in the Middle East and now the situation is worse; Thousands of lives have been lost, tens of thousands of people have been injured, over a million people have been uprooted from their homes and infrastructure has been severely damaged.

In a country where almost half of the population does not know where the next meal is coming from, WFP is providing life-saving assistance to millions of people – children, women, conflict-affected families – in need. We cannot reach everyone but without WFP’s assistance, more people would go to bed hungry, more families would be desperate in their efforts to feed children and more lives would be severely affected by the ongoing conflict.

Of course, working here can be tough. There are constant airstrikes where we live and work. Sometimes the impact of accompanying explosions are so big that the buildings shake and we have to go into bunkers. We have to exercise caution at all times by avoiding open areas and staying indoors when the situation is particularly bad.

One of the scariest moments was in March, when the airstrikes started and we had to evacuate over 400 staff from the country immediately.

WFP dispatches food during a humanitarian pause in Yemen
WFP dispatches food during a humanitarian pause in Yemen (Photo: WFP/ Purnima Kashyap)

The impact of war

Working in an emergency, no day is the same, but it will involve me reacting quickly to events and negotiating to ensure we can get as much food through to those that need it. I tend to leave the office by 5:30 pm due to security regulations but continue to work at home way beyond midnight.

It can be hard to disconnect from work. I like to try and set aside some time to watch a movie or to talk to family and friends via Skype. I am blessed to have a very understanding family who shares my values, but I do miss them every day.

I often wish I could walk around safely so that I could explore Yemen properly – I can’t even eat local food or go to a restaurant, and this can feel claustrophobic at times.

Witnessing the devastating impact of war on a daily basis is tough. But I love my job and knowing that we are helping to alleviate people’s suffering keeps me going. There is no greater feeling than seeing a smiling child who has been supported through our school feeding programme, or a grateful mother whose malnourished child starts to show the first signs of recovery.”