Yemen: Trapped by landmines

Yemen: Trapped by landmines


In early 2018, fighting intensified along the frontline between the cities of Taiz and Hodeidah by Ansar Allah troops and forces supported by the Saudi and Emirati-led coalition. The coalition-backed forces advanced on the strategic port of Hodeidah, on the Red Sea, before launching an attack on the city on 13 June 2018.

In an effort to prevent the advance of the coalition’s ground troops, thousands of mines and improvised explosive devices were planted across the region’s roads and fields. The principal victims of these lethal hazards have been civilians, many of whom have been killed or maimed for life after unwittingly stepping on an explosive device.

MSF set up a hospital in the city of Mocha, in Taiz governorate, in August 2018, where their teams perform emergency surgery on people injured by landmines – one-third of them children.

At the MSF hospital in Mocha, December 2018, a bell sounds in the yard of the tented hospital signalling the arrival of yet more patients.

A pick-up truck armed with a rocket launcher screeches to a halt and unloads four patients in front of the emergency room. Two are children covered with hastily applied bandages; the other two are already dead. Just a few hours earlier they had been with family members in fields in Mawza, some 30 kilometres away, when someone stepped on a mine.

Like them, 14-year-old Nasser was wounded when a mine exploded. A scar on his left hand shows where his thumb was amputated after he was hit by a bullet some years ago. Nasser stepped on the mine on 7 December while he, his uncle and cousin were watching over the family’s sheep in a field in Mafraq Al Mocha, Taiz governorate.

Later that day, Nasser was operated on in MSF’s surgical hospital 50 kilometres away in Mocha. Part of his right leg was amputated below the knee. With a thumb missing, it’s hard for him to use the crutches.

Before the war, the area between Mocha and the frontline was agricultural. Since the fighting started, towns and villages near the combat zones – such as Hays and Mafraq Al Mocha, where MSF provides support to advanced medical posts – have seen many of their inhabitants flee.

The surrounding fields have been mined to prevent the advance of military troops, making them impossible to cultivate and depriving the local population of their livelihood.

A 45-minute drive from Mocha, Mawza district has seen its population halve. “People who live here are punished – not once, but twice. The mines not only blow up their children but also prevent them from cultivating their fields. They lose their source of income as well as food for their families,” says Claire Ha-Duong, MSF head of mission in Yemen.

Between August and December 2018, MSF’s teams in Mocha admitted and treated more than 150 people wounded by mines, improvised explosive devices and unexploded ordnance. One third of the patients were children who had been playing in fields. Disabled for life, they face an uncertain future.

By creating generations of maimed people, mines have far-reaching repercussions – not only for individual families, but for society as a whole, as their victims are likely to be more dependent on others at the same time as being more socially isolated.

Source: Médecins sans Frontières


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