“Amarah Saeed Mohammed, eight years old. Post bomb explosion, open fracture of the tibia and fibula,” a woman reads from a piece of paper at a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) hospital as the little girl lays in a bed, looking frail, and frightened.
On top of that, Amarah is one of the 150 people treated by MSF in the port city of Mocha alone who have encountered deadly Houthi landmines. According to the organization, one third of those are children.
“She was looking after the sheep and playing in the fields,” her mother said. “Several kids were injured or got killed in the explosion. People get injured by landmines everyday.”
Between the cities of Taiz and Hodeidah, Houthi militias have planted thousands of mines and improvised explosive devices.
According to an MSF report titled “Trapped by mines”, the Houthis not only planted the mines on roads and strategic infrastructures to cut-off an advance of the Yemeni army and Arab Coalition forces in areas they have fled, but also plant many on agricultural lands, like Mocha, which are the only source of income and sustenance for many civilians in southwestern Yemen.
Punished ‘not once but twice’
A 45-minute drive from Mocha, the Mawza district has seen its population halved. “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,” Claire Ha-Duong, MSF head of mission in Yemen, said.
The report profiles several patients, including children, affected by the Houthi militias’ often-used tactic of planting landmines across the southwestern region of the country to fend off Arab Coalition forces from advancing toward the strategic port city of Hodeidah.
One farmer said he went to the fields eight months ago when a Houthi mine exploded under him. “I found myself lying on the ground. My father picked me up and took me to a hospital in Aden to get my leg treated.”
The journey from Mocha to Aden takes approximately eight hours.
Mohammed, the father of a 14-year-old boy who had part of his leg amputated after stepping on a mine told MSF that since the accident, they have been apprehensive about walking in the fields around Mafraq Mocha. “We know mines have been planted around the town, but the problem is we don’t know exactly where,” he said.
Clearing the mines
Baraa Shiban, a Middle East and North Africa caseworker at the Reprieve human rights organization, told Al Arabiya English that the Houthis have been using landmine planting tactics since before the start of the conflict in 2012.
“If anyone has been following the (country’s) conflicts since 2012, you would know it’s an ongoing Houthi strategy. I first came across the planting of mines in huge amounts in my hometown of Hajjah in a tribal conflict with Houthis in 2012,” Shiban said.
“Since then, I realized that it’s an effective way to prevent people from coming back. This slows down any quick territorial losses they suffered in conflict,” he added.
Shiban explained that this means that even if a group managed to push the Houthis out of an area, it will slow down the settling in process, especially by villagers and residents.
While the Yemeni army, according to the Yemen Executive Mine Action Centre, has cleared 300,000 mines between 2016 and 2018 with the help from the Arab Coalition and organizations like KSRelief, a lot more needs to be done.
In the second week of December 2018, the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center landmine clearance project (MASAM) in Yemen extracted 64 anti-personnel mines, 1,430 anti-vehicle mines, 85 improvised explosive devices and 955 unexploded ordnances, which is a total of 2,534 mines.
Since MASAM was launched in June, 2018, a total of 26,609 mines planted by the Iranian-backed Houthi militias in the territories, schools, and homes across Yemen were removed.
But according to the Supervisor General of KSRelief, Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, the project – launched with an initial budget of $40 million with an aim to achieve a landmine-free Yemen – still has to tackle a total of 600,000 mines planted in liberated areas by the Houthi militias. This includes 130,000 internationally banned sea mines, 40,000 mines in Marib and 16,000 mines on the island of Mayon alone, according to local reports.
In June of 2018, Al-Rabeeah confirmed that Houthi mines resulted in over 1,539 recorded deaths, injury for over 3,000 and permanent disability to over 900 Yemenis, mostly women, children and the elderly.
According to a report by UK-based organization Conflict Armament Research (CAR), the use of landmines and IEDs is a growing threat in Yemen, especially as their investigation points to Iran’s hand at providing the Houthis with the necessary bomb-making supplies.
“IEDs and Radio Controlled Improvised Explosive Device (RCIED) employed by Houthi forces continue to contain components that originate in Iran. The most recent seizures of IED electronics reveal attempts to conceal their provenance,” the CAR report, published in September 2018, read.
CAR’s report also said that the problem of landmines and IEDS will continue “long after the current phase of the conflict concludes.”
A primary problem of the mines planted by the Houthis is that, not only are they camouflaged and hidden, they are sometimes made to look like everyday items in order to trick whomever may walk in its path.
Al Arabiya English previously reported how the Houthis had planted mines that resemble the trunks of palm trees near the strategic Kilo 16 area in the al-Hali district of Hodeidah, close to civilian areas. In another report, coalition forces found mines randomly planted in roads and made to look like ordinary rocks. Those landmines would be come to known as “death stones” by civilians.
But even though Amarah faced the death stone firsthand, she is fighting to survive, unlike many who couldn’t.
“She’s got shrapnel wounds and a penetrating abdominal wound,” Bernard Lemenager, an MSF doctor, said. “We could repair the large intestine straight away but it often doesn’t hold properly so the repair could leak and in turn cause peritonitis.”
A young face, trapped like many, due to sly war tactics that, although not visible to the naked eye for being strategically hidden, cause very visible devastation in a country already marred by starvation, destruction and war.