The BBC’s Safa AlAhmad is one of few journalists to have reached the besieged city of Taiz, at the heart of Yemen’s civil war. She found a city destroyed by shelling – and a doctor struggling to save the life of a six-year-old girl.
At the al-Thawra hospital in the besieged city of Taiz, doctors gather outside the operating room to discuss which of their patients will be left to die. Without enough medicine and oxygen to treat all those injured in Yemen’s pitiless civil war, hard decisions have to be made.
On the day I arrived, in mid-December, the choice was between a tiny six-year-old girl, Asma, and an old man with a gangrenous wound to the abdomen.
Asma had been hit by shrapnel as she queued to collect drinking water from a lorry. Nineteen other children were injured in the attack, and five were killed. The impact had broken away a shard of Asma’s skull as big as the palm of my hand. Despite the severity of her injuries, the trauma surgeon began a desperate effort to save her.
The smell in the operating room was nauseating – a stench of blood and disinfectant, and of the white surgical plaster that the surgeon was shaping in his hands to patch the hole in Asma’s head. He worked fast, racing to complete the operation before the oxygen ran out and increased the damage to the child’s brain.
The mortar that shattered Asma’s skull was almost certainly fired by Houthi rebels as part of an eight-month campaign to wrest Taiz, Yemen’s second-largest city, from the control of forces loyal to the country’s internationally-recognised government. To that end the Houthis have mounted a siege on Taiz, cutting off nearly all routes into the city and preventing even basic supplies from getting in by road.
The only way around the road blocks are mule tracks and smugglers’ trails through the Sabr mountains. Everything – flour, rice, cooking gas, diesel, medicine – has to come over these trails to reach the starving and embattled people of Taiz.