SHE is the Scots aid worker who is following in her father's footsteps by risking her life working in some of the world's worst conflict areas.

Yemen-based Laura Phillips has revealed her diet of facing gunfire, sleep deprivation and constant phone calls with her family, to enable her to try to keep her calm in the line of fire while helping deal with the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.

The 28-year-old World Food Programme (WFP) analyst has been based at a UN compound in the Yemeni capital of Sana'a since January, to help 12 million displaced and starving Yemenis every month, in projects supported by the Department for International Development (DFID).

The numbers in dire need of help have risen from the eight to nine million a month that were being targeted last year.

Four years after Yemen's intractable civil war that has killed nearly 10,000 people, WFP estimate that out of a population of 30m, there are now 238,000 on the brink of famine.


In March, Ms Phillips from Irvine in Ayrshire and her colleagues assisted 10.6m people with monthly food assistance. Food packages include wheat flour, vegetable oil, sugar, salt and yellow split peas.

International Development Secretary Rory Stewart paid his own tribute, saying: “Courageous aid workers such as Laura are at the heart of the UK's efforts to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. She has my utmost respect and gratitude.

“This year, the UK Government committed an additional £200 million to tackle the crisis, bringing the total UK aid to Yemen to over £770 million since the conflict began.

“This is supporting the World Food Programme and aid workers like Laura to deliver life-saving assistance to meet the immediate food needs of more than one million Yemenis each month over a year. It will also treat 30,000 children for malnutrition and provide more than one million people with an improved water supply and basic sanitation.”

Representatives of international aid and humanitarian organizations operating in war-wracked Yemen have said they are increasingly being targeted by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels on a scale that could jeopardize efforts to assist millions of civilians caught in the crisis.

One humanitarian worker, Awfa al-Naami, the country manager for Saferworld in late January was held her for weeks, before being released on February 16 after sustained diplomatic pressure. Her detention stoked fears that the group would stage similar abductions.

Ms Phillips says her father Paul ,51, who currently serving with the Army HQ Force Troops Command and has just been Meritorious Service Medal (MSM) in recognition of over 30 years service, has helped her deal with the challenging environments.


Speaking in Yemen, she says she has had advice on how to remain calm from Mr Phillips, who has dodged bullets with the army in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Since I have been away, all we talk about is the security situation, the news and what is happening. If there is gunfire I sometimes film it and he will tell me what it is, he can tell what it is, how far away it is, if it is an air strike he can tell if it is that. It is nice to have that relationship.

READ MORE: David Pratt: Starvation - Yemen's most deadly weapon

"He always tells me how to keep calm in these situations and how to handle the environment, and what to do if you are ever caught in complex situations. It is a daily conversation. A lot is chit chat, but when something does happen, or we get an alert, I tell him and he usually tells me what to do."

Her mother East Kilbride-raised mother Carlene called her as news broke that seven people had been killed after a hospital supported by Save The Children was hit by an airstrike in at the end of March. The atrocity happened near the entrance to a rural hospital around 180 miles from the capital.


“She does get worried, but she sees that the benefits and that the impact of the job outweighs the risks and she’s proud of me," she said.

"I keep calm by speaking to my family every day. The best thing is to have a connection with home and looking forward to going home.

"I talk to my boyfriend on Facetime every day and my family, that's the main thing that keeps me calm."

While there is heavy protection in the compound, there was an occasion when a building adjacent to an her office was decimated by an air strike.

She said: "It is about trying to get a good night's sleep, which isn't very often. It depends on the stress of the job, the gunfire, it is just constant noise outside. Every night there is gunfire pretty much. So, you don't know when it ends. But it always starts in the night, you don't hear it through the day."

In 2017, the Aberdeen University graduate put her PhD in food security and climate change on hold to join WFP’s operation in Bangladesh, as hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar creating the world’s largest refugee crisis.

She went on to work with the agency Syria, and was in Damascus in April, last year when the UK and US and France conducted air strikes, flying over her hotel in what she describes as "one of the scariest of times".


Her present role involves providing the big picture overview of WFP’s Yemen operation – the agency’s largest anywhere in the world – pulling together all the data and information, ensuring it is consistent and accurate, so that those that need help, are.

Last month she visited the vital port city of Hodeidah, which has been the scene of a fragile ceasefire since December 2018. Movement into "the field" to support the Yemeni people is in armoured vehicles.

"It is quite crazy there," she said. When you are travelling through the city it is a complete ghost town, it is quite an eerie feeling, there is nobody on the streets, there is no sense of normal life, there are no shops open, there are destroyed buildings everywhere. It is very unsettling and quite jarring.

"When I was there we went to a food distribution point. They were coming to collect their monthly rations and it was men in the morning and women in the afternoon for their families.


"You just see lots of young children in ill fitting and torn clothes, and you can see how skinny they are. You can see those who come for the food are in desperate need, and it is very hard to see.

"You can never really tell how many people are in desperate need of assistance or don't know where they will get their next meal.

"We provide food baskets or it can be a cash voucher to buy food from local markets which injects money back to the economy. It is flexible depending on the security situation and access to markets."

The Yemeni conflict has its roots in the Arab Spring of 2011, when an uprising forced the country's long-time authoritarian president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to hand over power to his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.

The political transition was supposed to bring stability to what was already one of the Middle East's poorest nations, but President Hadi struggled to deal with a variety of problems including attacks by jihadists, corruption, food insecurity, and continuing loyalty of many military officers to Saleh.

Fighting began in 2014 when the Houthi Shia Muslim rebel movement took advantage of the new president's weakness and seized control of northern Saada province and neighbouring areas.

Ms Phillips' current contract expires in February of next year.

"I will either extend or go somewhere else, it depends on the situation here, if there is another emergency or if I want to go somewhere a bit calmer," she said. "I haven't decided. I guess as I have been in three emergencies, it would be quite nice to get headquarters experience or try a different country."