Abdullah al-Marrani, his wife and nine children left the caves they were sheltering in in mid-February and returned home, but life is not much better in their village of Shaab in Arhab District, some 30km northeast of the Yemeni capital Sana’a.
They live in a single room - the only roof left in their two-storey house which was severely damaged during clashes between Republican Guards (led by Brig Ahmad Ali, son of ex-president Ali Saleh) and opposition gunmen.
Al-Marrani decided to bring his family back home when fighting died down in the wake of the November 2011 power transfer deal.
“This is the only room spared by the conflict. All the other rooms, the kitchen and the two bathrooms are rubble. We relieve ourselves outdoors, al-Marrani told IRIN, adding that they also have to fend off snakes, rats and scorpions.
The family’s main source of income, `khat’, dried up after they were unable to farm because of the violence. “The food aid we receive from relief agencies doesn’t suffice for all of us… We can skip meals and tolerate hunger, but our younger children cannot,” he said.
Displacement for nearly seven months has severely disrupted the district’s agricultural production, including grapes, oranges and cereals.
Most of the 1,500 families who fled the district and sheltered in nearby caves or in Amran Governorate relied on pumped water to irrigate their `khat’ farms, according Abdualim al-Hamdi, head of local NGO Arhab Social Charitable Society (ASCS).
“We hardly find enough water for domestic use… How can we water the plants if we cultivate our farms?” said Qannaf al-Edhari, a `khat’ grower in the district’s Beit al-Edhari village.
According to Mansour al-Haniq, a Member of Parliament from Arhab District, some 25 artesian wells in the area have been destroyed or damaged. “None of them operate these days. In some villages like Shaab and Zandan, water pumps were stolen,” he added.
If the wells are repaired, two months of cultivation is required before any `khat’ can be produced, and six months in the case of grapes, said Sheikh Saleh al-Marrani from Shaab village.
Abdulkhaliq al-Rajawi of ASCS told IRIN that nearly 80 percent of families had returned to their homes in Jarmouz, Beit al-Edhari and Shaab villages, but that some villages like Labu, Sheraa and Samnah were still seeing intermittent clashes between Republican Guards and opposition gunmen. “Most of the families haven’t yet returned to their homes in these three villages due to intermittent shelling,” he said.
A January 2012 assessment by Vision Hope International (VHI), showed that 70 percent of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Arhab District had returned home but lacked water and were often unable to farm because of the destruction of wells, Adriaan Jagersma of VHI told IRIN.
VHI was currently distributing food to thousands of IDP returnees including flour, cooking oil, beans, sugar and rice.
Al-Rajawi of ASCS told IRIN there are currently two active humanitarian agencies assisting returnees: VHI, and the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (non-food items such as blankets, mattresses).
Five hundred homes have been damaged or destroyed in Arhab District, said Ahmad al-Rahabi, chief evaluator of material losses at the National Organization for Defending Rights and Freedoms, known as HOOD.