The conflict in Yemen has been described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Since the Houthi rebellion has taken over Yemen’s capital Sana’a in 2014, there has been a civil war affecting the most vulnerable groups. Over two million people have been displaced with lack of access to food, medicine and shelter. As well as a cholera epidemic, Yemen is on the brink of famine.
One of the most dangerous factors impacting not only those involved in the civil war, but civilians, is the fact that Yemen is covered in landmines and explosives. In 2002, the Saleh government declared that it had destroyed its stockpiles of anti-personnel mines since the government had joined the 1997 international convention banning their use.
Yet there have been countless instances of anti-personnel landmines placed by the Houthi militia, being used on civilians and even children.
Since January 2018, over 140 civilians, including 19 children have lost their lives to landmines in Hodeidah and Taizz governorates alone and experts believe the death toll of landmines falls somewhere above 9,000. Furthermore, since the impact of landmines is very difficult to track, the numbers are expected to be much higher than documented. Ousama Al-Gosaibi, the program manager for the Saudi-funded Masam demining project, commented that “It’s not being used as a defensive (or) offensive mechanism. It’s being used to terrorize the local population across Yemen”.
The mines impact the outreach of aid and make it impossible for families to return to their home. Priyanka Motaparthy, acting emergencies director at Human Rights Watch stated that “Houthi-laid landmines have not only killed and maimed numerous civilians, but they have prevented vulnerable Yemenis from harvesting crops and drawing clean water desperately needed for survival”. The landmines are usually placed in open fields, roads, farmland, wells, and even abandoned schools. In addition, they are hidden in tree trunks and fake rocks to make them more difficult to detect.
When the Houthi rebels captured northern Yemen, they gained access to vast stock-piles of anti-tank mines. There have also been reports of the rebels converting these anti-tank mines into anti-personnel mines. Landmines that would usually require the pressure of 220 pounds to detonate have been altered to only require 22 pounds. This means even the weight of a small child passing over the landmine would detonate it.
While Yemen is still impacted by landmines placed during previous conflicts, the landmine problem is exacerbated by the fact that Houthi rebels placed their mines mainly randomly and unmapped.
Efforts to clear mines suffer from poor coordination, inadequate training and do not comply with International Mine Action Standards (IMAS). Furthermore, the Houthi rebels continue to place more mines even in areas that have been cleared, making it almost impossible to declare any part of Yemen mine free.
The Mine Action Project set up by the UNDP has been focusing their efforts on mapping out where landmines are placed, removing them, as well as informing local communities and helping those injured by the explosives. Up to three million square meters have been cleared and around 66,000 undetonated landmines have been removed. Yet despite their efforts, the Yemeni government stated that it would take multiple decades to remove all mines from Yemen. Al Gosaibi commented that “You cannot rebuild Yemen without addressing the mine issue”. Landmines will impact Yemen’s future for decades to come.