Mines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW) have killed 27 people and injured at least 36 in the last two months in Hajjah Governorate, northwestern Yemen, according to a 14 April Interior Ministry report. Many of the injured will be left permanently disabled.
Children are particularly at risk and the situation is hampering the return of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs), according to Hajjah Deputy Governor Ismail Mahim.
“Given the lack of mine-maps and experts, more children will be at high risk if displaced families return home,” Mohammed Rashid, a child protection specialist at Hajjah Social Affairs and Labour Office, told IRIN. “We fear the tragic stories of landmine-hit children in Sa’dah [Governorate] may be repeated in Hajjah.”
Mansour al-Azi, director of Yemen’s National Mine Action Programme (NMAP), said there were plans to deploy teams this week to carry out mine risk education campaigns in two badly affected districts, Kusher and Mestaba, but no decision had been taken because “the situation is still fluid.”
Kusher and Mestaba have seen intermittent clashes between Houthi-led Shia fighters and local armed militiamen, who are reported to be supporters of the Islamist Islah Party. Some 600 people from both sides are reported by local authorities to have been killed since November 2011.
The two warring sides reached a truce in February described by local analysts and journalists as “fragile”. Meanwhile, landmines and ERW are putting the lives of civilians - mostly farmers or herders - at risk, and stalling the return of thousands of IDPs.
Unofficial estimates indicate that at least 3,000 landmines have been planted in Kusher and Mestaba since sectarian clashes first broke out in November 2011, the local independent news website marebpress.net reported on 24 March.
“Landmines were even planted inside dead bodies. Last month, a landmine inside a corpse exploded, killing five people taking the corpse for burial,” Sheikh Yahya Qasim al-Saeedi, a spokesperson for Kusher tribesmen, told IRIN.
“We have been appealing for mine clearance actions and mine risk education campaigns to save lives of innocent children but received no response from those concerned,” Fawaz Felaitah, a school teacher in Mestaba District, told IRIN.
Children are most at risk as they tend to be unaware of the dangers and inquisitive at the same time. Many mistake ERW for toys or pick them up as they herd sheep, said Ahmad al-Qurashi, chairman of local NGO Seyaj Organization for Childhood Protection.
IRIN visited eight-year-old Rahaf Hadi from Kusher District who was injured in a 12 April blast near her family home, and in great pain in a Hajjah city hospital. Her two older brothers, Mushtaq and Abdu, were killed, while Rahaf sustained serious injuries to her face, belly, back and left arm.
“The painkillers she receives five times a day are no longer effective. No signs of recovery yet… I can neither eat nor sleep seeing Rahaf suffering before my eyes,” her mother Aisha told IRIN.
IDP returns affected
One blast has directly affected the return of IDPs.
In March, seven people were killed and 15 injured after a blast inside a home in Hazah village, Kusher District. One of those killed was 40-year-old Mohammed al-Deashi, who had returned to his village to check on the family home with a view to moving back with his wife and five children, who have been living in a school in Hajjah Governorate’s Khair al-Muharaq District.
Mohammed al-Tam, an investigator at the Hajjah Security Department, told IRIN that as a result of the blast hundreds of IDPs in Khairan Muharaq District had cancelled planned journeys home.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says more than 50,000 people have been displaced since November 2011 by sectarian conflict in the north.
In nearby Sa’dah Governorate, Abdulaziz Hanash, a coordinator for landmine victims, was quoted by local media as saying over 2,000 people had been handicapped by mines and ERW. “No one talks about these victims… Many people have not only lost their homes, jobs or members of their family, but also a limb or an ability.”
According to the Landmine and Cluster Munitions Monitor, Yemen is contaminated with mines and unexploded ordnance as a result of conflicts dating back to 1962. Most mines were laid in border areas between northern and southern Yemen prior to unification in 1990. As of August 2008, all governorates were contaminated.