“Mines were inside homes, behind walls, inside bathrooms, everywhere,” describes Ali, 70.
For many Yemenis, the realities of war are tangible and deadly. Ali, a farmer and a father of five, was impacted by explosive remnants of war in his village, losing critical income and carrying the heavy weight of fear and anxiety every time he left his home.
“Once, I went in my car to fetch firewood with my son, and after we had already transported two loads, a mine exploded as we drove by it. We were passing by the mines without knowing. The mine exploded and hit the tyre and wheels, but thankfully we weren’t hurt. After that incident we panicked and could no longer collect firewood,” he recalls.
Ali and his family were previously displaced by the on-going war. Fortunately, after just two-three months they were able to return to their homes, but what Ali and his neighbours found was frightening. Homes, farms and streets filled with mines.
“I own agricultural land and the mines affected my ability to reach it. Now it’s become like a neglected forest. We couldn’t reach it by vehicle because we were afraid that the vehicle would explode around us,” he continues. “I also have some sheep which I sometimes sell to meet the needs of my family. Once I was in the valley and one of the mines exploded, killing eleven sheep. We couldn’t get out, and dozens of sheep were dying.”
“Another time my cousin was with his sheep walking down the water drainage tunnel when ten died,” Ali says, remembering the many times these mines chipped away at his livelihood.
Communities like Ali’s struggle to recover from the suffering of war. The constant threat of danger makes rebuilding their lives and thriving almost impossible.
But together, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Yemen Executive Mine Action Centre (YEMAC) have been working to restore safety in rural communities just like Ali’s.
UNDP’s Mine Action Project’s main aim is to build the capacity of its national demining partner so that they can better protect Yemeni communities. This is done through technical training, administrative and operational support and providing equipment that enables explosive ordnance survey and clearance. In addition, UNDP supports YEMAC and a number of International NGOs, to increase community awareness to ensure people understand the threat of mines, how to identify and avoid them, and where to report them.
These project activities are expected to reduce the risk of disaster and prepare communities to cope with the presence and negative effects of explosives.
In 2020, UNDP’s support to local partners resulted in the survey and mine clearance of over 3.1 million square metres of contaminated land across 199 districts in 19 governorates — removing the threat of more than 68,000 explosive hazards.
“Our safety has been largely restored — there are no more mines in our homes. But outside the village sometimes you find mines and other times that explode on their own. With the heat of noon you sometimes see smoke rising and when you get closer you find that it is a mine that has exploded on its own,” says Ali, thankful for the efforts of UNDP and its local partners.
“Once when two mines exploded on their own, YEMAC came and examined the area. They found many next to it. We were told to report mines immediately when we find them,” he continues. “This mountain was filled with mines. YEMAC informed us more than once, now we are more careful,” states Ali, pointing to the distant range.
“They made us more aware and told us that if we find traces of mines, we should not approach them at all, because sometimes you find mines that are not completely buried…with only half of them visible,” Ali continues. “I learned all of this from the community awareness-raising sessions. Now I know what a mine looks like and what types of mines there are,” he says proudly.
YEMAC has hosted several activities in Ali’s village, raising awareness, improving local knowledge and removing large areas of explosive ordnance that will likely result in saved lives.
“We weren’t able to sleep until they started to remove mines,” concludes Ali. “Now we can graze our livestock, we can get firewood, and we can fetch water from the well. People walk everywhere. Previously, we were afraid to walk in the area, especially when one of our children was with us.”
These activities were completed through UNDP Yemen’s Mine Action Project. The project aims to use both prevention and response measures including risk education, assistance to victims and explosive ordnance survey and clearance operations to help ensure a safer Yemen for all. It also helps to improve skills and abilities within the National Mine Action Committee (NMAC), the Yemeni Executive Mine Action Center (YEMAC), and the Yemen Mine Action Co-ordination Centre (YMACC), so that they can better protect people and communities.