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Stars shine above the Old City on Saturday, May 23, 2015 in Sana'a, Yemen.
Stars shine above the Old City on Saturday, May 23, 2015 in Sana'a, Yemen.Alex Potter
Stars shine above the Old City on Saturday, May 23, 2015 in Sana'a, Yemen.
Smoke rises from an airstrike on Tuesday, June 9, 2015 in Sana'a, Yemen.
A Yemeni security guard looks on in shock as rescuers attempt to dig out family members from a destroyed home in the Old City on Friday, June 12, 2015 in Sana'a, Yemen. Four houses collapsed after a Saudi airstrike in the city. It is unclear if an unexploded rocked landed inside the homes, or the pressure of a nearby explosion caused them to collapse.
Yemeni men from al Qasimi neighborhood dig through the remains of four homes destroyed in an airstrike Friday, June 12, 2015 in Sana'a, Yemen. The Old City of Sana'a is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a densely populated civilian area. The Saudi-led coalition denied hitting the Old City.
Rescuers, mostly neighbors and local men, attempt to dig a family out of a collapsed home in the Old City on Friday, June 12, 2015 in Sana'a, Yemen. Four houses collapsed after a Saudi airstrike in the city. It is unclear if an unexploded rocked landed inside the homes, or the pressure of a nearby explosion caused them to collapse. (AP Photo / Alex Potter)
Rescuers and family members attempt to pull a man from the rubble of his home on Friday, June 12, 2015 in Sana'a, Yemen. Four houses collapsed after a Saudi airstrike in the city. It is unclear if an unexploded rocked landed inside the homes, or the pressure of a nearby explosion caused them to collapse.
Yemen Health Care System
Yemeni brothers climb the remains of an apartment building in Faj Attan, a district in Yemen heavily targeted by airstrike, Monday Auugst 17, 2015 in Sana'a, Yemen.
Yemeni children play in the Silah drainage road after heavy rains on August 6, 2015 in Sana'a, Yemen.
Yemeni men gather for a wedding celebration in the Old City on June 4, 2015 in Sana'a, Yemen.
Airstrike Civilian Casualties
Airstrike Civilian Casualties
A young Yemeni man lays recovering from his injuries in Amran Hospital on Tuesday, July 7, 2015 in Amran, Yemen.
Airstrike Civilian Casualties
A Yemeni mother holds her malnourished daughter in the children's ward of MSF-supported al Salam Hospital on July 7, 2015 in Amran, Yemen. The mother was too malnourished to breastfeed, and couldn't afford formula or fresh powdered milk. The powder she bought turned out to be spoiled, and her daughter fell ill for weeks.
Fadhl Ahmad, a guard for the qat fields, sits with his two sons in his home on July 22, 2015. Since the war started, there has been no diesel to pump the water to water the qat, so he’s had no work.
Yemeni men dance the bara'a, a traditional tribal dance of northern Yemen for a wedding celebration on June 4, 2015 in Sana'a, Yemen.
A Yemeni boy hands a crown of jasmine flowers to his friend at  a wedding celebration in the Old City on June 4, 2015 in Sana'a, Yemen.
A Yemeni boy stands for a portrait after collecting water from a public tap near a mosque on Tuesday, June 2, 2015 in Sana'a, Yemen. Most homes did not have access to water before the war, and the dry conditions have only been exacerbated by the conflict, as most families cannot afford to purchase trucks that deliver water.
Mohammad Abdulrab Qahed, originally from the Razih district of Sa'ada, bordering Saudi Arabia, stands with his wife Umm Sa'ad, and three children, Imad, Wiam, and Dua'a, on June 10, 2015 in Sana'a, Yemen. Now living in a school with other IDP's, they are some of the 1.5 million Yemenis displaced from their homes across the country.
Children from a Yemeni family originally from the heavy-hit northern province of Sa'ada sit in their tent outside on July 7, 2015 in Amran, Yemen. They are members of Yemen's marginalized community, the Muhamashin, most of whom are not able to shelter in schools or family elsewhere.
Yemeni women displaced from Sa'ada by airstrikes, sit for a portrait in the home of a Yemeni family that is hosting them on June 10, 2015 in Sana'a, Yemen. A young boy in their family has leukemia, and three men from their family shared a single motorcycle for the eight our ride to Sana'a from Sa'daa.
Airstrike Civilian Casualties
Muthana Abdullah Jaylani (center) prays over the graves of his relatives and neighbors who were killed by an airstrike, July 22, 2015. The strike killed at least five people, though only two were reported to the local MSF Hospital.
A Yemeni man tends to his vegetable garden on July 4, 2015 in Sana'a, Yemen. Old Sana'a used to be full of green gardens; most have now dried out due to water shortages.
Airstrike Civilian Casualties
Stars shine above the Old City on Saturday, May 23, 2015 in Sana'a, Yemen.
Alex Potter
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Photographing the Cost of War in Yemen

Dec 08, 2015

The earth erupted and rubble fell. The airstrike had just hit the Old City, 100 meters from Alex Potter's home in Sana’a, Yemen. Already, the photographer's neighbors were spilling into the night in bedclothes, in sandals. “They had probably been hiding in their basements with flashlights and shovels, ready to start digging people out right away,” she tells TIME.

For the five hours she photographed the strike’s aftermath, and for the next day, the community worked ceaselessly to extricate survivors. As some dug into the wreckage, others brought meals and water. To those whose homes had crumbled, all the neighbors said, “Here, you can come live with us, of course.”

This outpouring of communal support, Potter realized, was the only possible response to the relentless destruction. Since March, the Saudi-led, U.S.-backed coalition’s airstrikes in Yemen have landed about as often as the sun has risen. Nearly 6,000 have been killed and 2.3 million are internally displaced, according to data from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the World Health Organization. With more than 80 percent of the country severely in need of aid, the United Nations has designated Yemen alongside Syria, Iraq, and South Sudan on its list of highest-level humanitarian crises.

Originally from Minnesota, Potter trained as a registered nurse and graduated from Bethel University in 2011, but wanted to transition to photojournalism. “I had studied abroad in Jordan and spoke some Arabic,” she says. “I thought the 2012 presidential election in Yemen would be a good place to start.” Since then, she has been largely based in Sana’a, focusing her work on the role of change in community, family, and tribe, and the effect of conflict on future generations.

The civilian impact of the war in Yemen has been chronically underreported in quantity and quality, she says, as the living and working conditions continue to deteriorate. Potter's most recent work was photographed between May and August, even as blockades paralyzed the flow of vital supplies and bombs demolished infrastructure, making access to basic necessities a daily struggle. “Back when times were good, we had maybe eight to 12 hours of electricity a day,” she says. “Now, there’s almost no electricity. It’s just unreal.”

According to Potter, Yemen’s community-oriented social structure has helped dramatically to stretch remaining resources. Of the 2.3 million internally displaced Yemenis, few live in camps because most have been invited into other families’ homes, she says. Every day, mosques and wealthier Yemenis donate trucks of water to hundreds of people waiting with empty buckets in hand. Friends visit to dress each other’s wounds, make meals and help with daily tasks. “In Yemen, if you see your neighbor needs something, you always share,” Potter says. “Even if you have just one sandwich, you give half to someone else.”

But no amount of collective resourcefulness will prevent many lasting consequences. Starved of resource and food shipments, the country faces imminent famine, the UN warns. The wounded face long-term serious disability because the hospitals are closing down. “There’s been no school in session since March,” says Potter. “Imagine if this continues for years. There will be an entire uneducated generation.”

Potter hopes her coverage will help people outside of Yemen wake up to the reality on the ground. “Yemen has a reputation for being very lawless. It has never had a strong centralized government, or a strong ‘democracy’ as the West would see it,” she says. “But in the rural areas, which is how the majority of people live, there’s tribal law and moral and religious codes of conduct. They tend to govern themselves quite well. The problem is when outsiders try to solve Yemen’s political problems.”

Alex Potter is a photographer based in the Middle East.

Alice Gabriner, who edited this photo essay, is TIME's Intertnational Photo Editor.

Jen Tse is a photo editor and contributor to TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter @jentse and Instagram.

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