STORY

From fighting fires to weathering food crises: Community safety makes an impact in Yemen

Members of the community safety committee in Crater handing over firefighting kits to selected neighbourhoods and mosques. Members of the community safety committee in Crater handing over firefighting kits to selected neighbourhoods and mosques. Photo © Berghof Foundation

After eight years of war, tens of thousands of civilian casualties, and over 4 million displaced people – among which almost 80 per cent are women and children – the situation in Yemen remains bleak. The UN-brokered truce between Yemen’s internationally recognised government and Ansar Allah, also known as the Houthi movement, signed in April 2022 and renewed in June is a welcome relief. Even though this was an important step, it is only the first of many that need to be taken in order to reach a comprehensive and lasting solution to end the war.

In the absence of a sustainable peace plan that would stabilise the entire country, the Berghof Foundation has taken concrete steps toward improving the lives of Yemeni people at the local level.

Funded by the European Union and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, we work to enhance community safety in five Yemeni cities: Aden, Al-Mukalla, Dhamar, Sana’a, and Taiz. We seek to enhance both the communities’ capacities to provide a safe environment for their citizens and people’s perception of safety in these cities.

Our community safety initiatives are set up in an inclusive manner, so people from all parts of the local community are involved in the effort to achieve local security for all. This approach is central to our work as we believe that if communication channels for regular exchange between community members and the police are established, then the perceived and real safety within the communities will improve. Ultimately, this will help restore basic state functions and improve the stability of governance structures in Yemen.

We partnered with the Political Development Forum in Yemen (PDF Yemen) and the team worked relentlessly to map and to implement activities on the ground. Together, we established community safety committees (CSCs) and worked closely with local authorities and police institutions to build trust and confidence between the members of the respective community and the security and judiciary providers. After four years, with the pilot phase of this project coming to an end, our initiatives have impacted many communities in the five cities.

Community safety describes a concept in which local police and government authorities work together with members of local communities to jointly enhance the citizens’ day-to-day safety.

In the port city of Aden, for example, the project’s impact has been twofold: The community safety committee in the district of Crater identified the need for increased fire safety. The committee members collaborated with a host of local authorities, such as the Security Director and the civil defense in Aden, in order to raise awareness and render firefighting kits accessible to everyone. The CSC-Crater also organised an awareness-raising campaign among Crater’s citizens. They distributed brochures to guide people on how to use the firefighting kits, they conducted training sessions in schools and communal institutions that taught people basic knowledge of first response in case of fires, and they supplied 14 mosques around Crater with firefighting equipment. The kits were placed so they are easily accessible to all visitors, including women in their part of the mosque.

Volunteers and trainers at a training on basic firefighting techniques conducted by the civil defence Aden.
Volunteers and trainers at a training on basic firefighting techniques conducted by the civil defence Aden. Photo © Berghof Foundation
Public demonstration of the firefighting kits.
Public demonstration of the firefighting kits. Photo © Berghof Foundation
Members of the Community Safety Committee in Aden are handing over firefighting kits to selected neighborhoods in the Sirah district.
Members of the CSC-Crater handing over equipment. Photo © Berghof Foundation
Firefighting kits delivered to Crater.
Firefighting kits delivered to Crater. Photo © Berghof Foundation
Attendees at a workshop on first responses during fires.
Attendees at a workshop on first responses during fires. Photo © Berghof Foundation

To this day, the equipment that was provided has been used successfully in a number of cases, saving lives and properties all over Crater. Influential actors in Aden – such as the Southern Transitional Council, representatives of the internationally recognised government, or the governor of Aden – have expressed their continued support to the committee, which enjoys a considerable political backing.

Thank you Berghof and PDF for what you are doing here in Crater. Without the firefighting equipment my property would now be in ashes.A pastry shop owner in the district of Crater in the city of Aden, Yemen

In summer 2021, the CSC also helped solving the bread crisis that had broken out due to a 10 per cent price increase in Aden. Bakery owners had seen the prices of raw materials go up, which in turn had led them to increase the price of their product. Members of the committee successfully supported the mediating efforts of the local police to reach an agreement between the bakery owners and the raw material suppliers. The outcome of the mediation was a deal on affordable fixed prices for both the raw materials and the bread. This successful mediation process is a great example of the quality of the training that the local police and the committee members had received, so they were equipped to help the parties negotiate a solution that can only be described as a win-win situation.

The initiatives working in Aden, as well as in the other four cities have had a profound impact on the lives of Yemeni people. Building trust among all the different stakeholders at community level as well as improving people’s everyday lives are concrete steps toward mitigating the consequences of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and, eventually, toward an overall national reconciliation in the country.

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