Increase in airstrikes and landmines add to misery for the people of Yemen

Yemen: Samiha Ali collects water from a tap, pumped from Oxfam’s desalination plant (Image Credit: Oxfam).

One year after the battle for Yemen’s resource-rich Marib governorate escalated, the humanitarian situation has worsened as shifting frontlines, airstrikes and landmines have displaced nearly 100,000 people, many of whom have already fled multiple times, Oxfam reports.

In January, 43 airstrikes hit civilian targets, representing more than a fifth of all airstrikes in the Marib area since fighting increased in February last year.

Most of these were on houses and farms, destroying homes and businesses that will take many years to rebuild.

The UN estimates that 85 per cent of displaced families are unable to pay rent on a regular basis as opportunities to earn money are scarce.

“This escalation in conflict, displacement and death that we are seeing in Marib is a snapshot of the suffering faced by communities across Yemen,” Oxfam’s Yemen Country Director Muhsin Siddiquey said.

“Ordinary people who have sought refuge in a place once described as an oasis of calm have become collateral damage in a protracted conflict.”

The Yemeni Civil War is an ongoing multilateral civil war that began in late 2014 mainly between the Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi-led Yemeni government and the Houthi armed movement, along with their supporters and allies. Both sides claim to constitute the official government of Yemen.

Many are anxious about being evicted since some nine in 10 of the settlements are built on private land without occupancy agreements.

Rental prices in Marib city have soared after the recent wave of displacements.

The spiralling currency depreciation coupled with an ongoing fuel crisis has seen prices of food, fuel and medicines more than double. Many people are forced to borrow money and are trapped in a cycle of debt, unable to afford their basic needs.

Yemen is now in its fourth wave of Covid and many displaced people lack access to basic facilities such as latrines and clean water.

Nearly eight years on from the start of the conflict only about half of the healthcare facilities are still operating leaving two out of three Yemenis without access to health services.

The only way out of this is for the warring parties to meet and negotiate a permanent peace settlement,” Mr Siddiquey said.

Civilians also face danger from missiles and shells fired from the ground as well as landmines and improvised explosive devices.

Eight civilians were killed by landmines in the Marib governorate in January 2022 compared with five for the whole of 2021, reflecting a worrying rise in the use of these outlawed weapons.

Landmines are often placed along roads and tracks across farmland leading to Marib city that are used by civilians bringing in goods to sell and migrants travelling through Yemen.

“Landmines are barbaric,” Mr Siddiquey said.

“They don’t distinguish between civilians and combatants and their threat, together with unexploded bombs and shells, hangs over communities for decades until they are de-activated.

“One key road leading to Marib is now a no-go area. Children have been killed while tending farm animals and even gathering firewood can be deadly.

“I am particularly worried by reports that records are not kept of where landmines are laid,” Mr Siddiquey added.

According to UN figures, over one million displaced people live in the Marib governorate, either with locals or in one of between 120 and 150 formal and informal sites, however, local authorities put the figure at close to two million. Of these, many have now been displaced five or six times.

Salem* and his family live in Alswidan camp on the outskirts of Marib.

“People in the camp are always afraid of military actions that could hit them anytime. We all live in anxiety,” Salem said.

“I can’t even leave the camp for a short time. I live with fear about my family and my family sleep and wake up frightened.”

Oxfam is working in Marib to improve water supplies, provide latrines and cash transfers so families can buy basic essentials.

In the last twelve months, Oxfam helped 95,928 people in Marib including providing access to drinking water for 60,000 and cash transfers to 14,875.

The United Nations has recently reminded warring parties that being at war does not absolve them of their obligations under international humanitarian law, which strictly prohibits disproportionate attacks and requires that all feasible precautions be taken to avoid civilian harm.

Since the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen – the UN-appointed body responsible for monitoring human rights abuses in Yemen – was disbanded in October last year there is no international monitoring of human rights violations.

All parties in Yemen’s protracted conflict have been responsible for civilian casualties.

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