Yemen has one of the highest rates of contamination from mines and other deadly explosives in the world, the International Red Cross has warned, nine years after the start of the civil war in this poor country on the Arabian Peninsula.
Plunged into a conflict triggered in July 2014 by a major offensive by Houthi rebels, supported by Iran, who entered the capital Sanaa two months later, Yemen is one of the three countries most affected by the contamination of weapons, said the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Experts estimate that at least a million mines were laid there during the chaos, posing a daily danger along with unexploded shells and other debris.
“As far as weapons contamination is concerned, Yemen, along with Afghanistan and Iraq, are the three countries most affected,” said Fabrizio Carboni, ICRC regional director for the Middle East, in an interview. to the AFP.
“It’s devastating and it has a very significant impact on people, their security, but also their livelihoods,” he said, speaking by telephone from Yemen.
A military coalition led by Yemen's neighbor Saudi Arabia has supported Yemeni power against the Houthis since March 2015, a conflict that has left hundreds of thousands dead.
According to the UN-linked Civilian Impact Monitoring Project, landmines, unexploded shells and other weapons or munitions left behind during fighting have killed and injured 1,469 civilians over the past five years.
“The presence of unexploded ordnance is massive,” Carboni said.
Around 20% of herders living in two areas close to the front lines reported contamination by explosives on their land, the ICRC found in a series of interviews in 2022.
Another ICRC survey of herders found that 70 percent had lost their animals to landmines and other explosives.
“The contamination is so important and so widespread that you will not be able to decontaminate everything” if the conflict ended today, according to Mr. Carboni.
Fighting in Yemen has mostly ceased since a U.N.-brokered ceasefire that took effect in April 2022 and largely held even after the deal expired in October 2022.
A Chinese-brokered rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which have resumed diplomatic relations, has raised hopes for Yemen.
“This is the first time that I really have the feeling that there are convincing and concrete political options on the table and that violence is no longer the only option,” Carboni said.
But even if there was peace, clearing the country of explosives would take many years, he said, adding that it would require resources, expertise and machinery.
"We're talking maybe decades. But again, it's a question of resources."
“Today, we inform and we train,” added Mr. Carboni.
"We organize sessions with local communities to inform them of the risks associated with unexploded ordnance, and (ask them) to inform us if they find any (weapons or munitions left) during the war, so that we can organize (demining ) with the various authorities and partners."
The ICRC is also redoubling its efforts to identify and return the remains of combatants who died in each camp, Mr. Carboni continued. “There are many bodies left and we want to work with all parties” on this issue.
In May, rebels and government forces exchanged the bodies of 43 fighters, the largest such exchange since the start of the war.
"We want to be optimistic but at the same time we don't want to be naive," said the ICRC official.
09/11/2023 12:22:07 - Dubai (AFP) - © 2023 AFP