Hopefully Yemen is past the worst of the violence. The ceasefire negotiated in the spring is repeatedly broken, but overall the violence of the past few years has decreased significantly, even if the conflict remains unresolved. The ceasefire agreed between the Houthi rebels and the international group represented by Saudi Arabia was in April Military coalition came into force and has since been extended twice, most recently in August. Millions of people in need – the Yemenis are also threatened or already affected by an enormous famine – the agreement gives at least a small breathing space.
Nevertheless, many people still have to fear for their lives and physical integrity. Because large parts of Yemen were literally turned into a minefield in the course of the war. In many regions, Yemenis fear stepping on one of the countless land mines scattered around the country. Many people have been killed in this way or had to have their limbs amputated as a result of an explosion. Since the explosives have hardly been cleared so far, many people must expect to step on one of the sneaky weapons without warning for years to come.
Having had to leave his home in the governorate of Hodeidah in the west of the country in early 2018 due to the war with his family, Muhammad Zuhair returned there a few months ago. The security conditions in the region had improved and civilian life seemed possible again.
But on the way there, the 45-year-old family man ran over a mine, which was hidden on the entrance road to his village, shortly before his home village. He was taken to an infirmary with serious injuries to his feet. When he woke up after the operation, he found that he only had one leg. The doctors had removed the other part, Zuhair told DW.
“I can hardly take it”
Dalilah suffered a similar fate. The 33-year-old lives in the city of Tais in the southwest of the country. She lost both legs. Now she is struggling to walk using the prostheses she recently received. It’s been a good five years since she stepped on a mine – exactly one day before her wedding. Three other women from her family were mutilated with her.
The accident not only robbed her of her legs – it also put her in financial distress. Before the wedding, her family had borrowed money to transfer to the groom’s family as so-called dowry. But he no longer wanted to marry the bride after her accident. But he kept the money. So Dalilah’s family was left with debts that they now had to pay back on their own.
“I can hardly bear to have to move without legs on prostheses,” Dalilah told DW. She is grateful to the organization “Doctors Without Borders” for the walking aids that she received from an infirmary – even if they are not in the best condition and have to be repaired again and again. Despite her disability, she works as a street vendor – at least that brings in some money.
UN envoy concerned
In Yemen, large areas have been turned into veritable minefields in recent years, especially where enemy troops were directly opposite each other. These areas pose the greatest threat to civilians once fighting has stopped.
The UN special envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, told the UN Security Council in July that two-thirds fewer injuries had been registered since the end of the fighting. Instead, however, numerous personal injuries were caused by landmines and duds, according to the diplomat.
Hundreds of fatalities
The Yemeni authorities have not yet released statistics on the number of people injured or killed by landmines. However, estimates assume a high number of dead and injured.
Faris Al-Hamiri, head of the Yemeni observation and documentation center for mines and unexploded ordnance, told DW that his organization registered a total of 426 fatalities between mid-2019 and early August 2022, including more than 100 children and 22 women. More than 560 injured were also registered, with a high proportion of children (216) and women (48). Many of the injured are left with permanent disabilities.
The problem of the mines has been exacerbated by the heavy rainfall and flooding in recent weeks. The water has not only destroyed the houses of poor Yemenis in particular. It has also flushed mines to previously uncontaminated sites. The director of Yemen’s mine protection program, Amin al-Aqili, warns that great efforts will be required to clear them. The work, he fears, could drag on for decades.
Adapted from Arabic by Kersten Knipp.