Yemen: the ever-present landmine threat

Sanaa, YEMEN, 3 May 2010 (IRIN) -The al-Sumeihi family fled their home in the Malaheed area of Saada Governorate, northern Yemen, in September 2009 to escape fighting between the army and Houthi-led rebels, and pitched a tent outside the al-Mazraq II camp for internally displaced persons in Haradh District, Hajjah Governorate.


On 25 March Adabah al-Sumeihi, 10, her younger sister Hanaa and their 10-year-old cousin Raja were grazing their goats a few hundred metres from the camp unaware of a lethal threat - landmines. What happened next is unclear as Adabah has no memory of the morning and Hanaa only saw her sister "flying in the air". But the explosion was heard by their family. Their father Ghazen al-Sumeihi ran towards the sound and found his two daughters badly injured on the ground. Raja was dead. "I felt horrible when I saw the girls," he said. The two sisters are now receiving treatment at Thawra hospital in Sanaa. Hanaa has been blinded in one eye. Her sister lost her left eye and her thumbs. Both girls have shrapnel wounds all over their faces and bodies, but it is "the invisible scars" that worry their parents most. "They don't sleep well; they don't eat well," said their mother Mohra al-Sumeihi. "And Hanaa has stopped talking."
The National Mine Action Committee (NMAC) has so far registered 20 landmine victims, but no accurate data exist. "There may be triple that number," said Mansour al-Azi, head of NMAC. "The Houthis and people with minor injuries don't register, and often people admitted to hospital outside the capital are not registered either." Saleh al-Dhahyani, head of the Yemeni Association for Landmine Survivors, said there could be even more. "According to the newspapers, hundreds have been injured," he said.
Hefty hospital bills
Ghazen al-Sumeihi holds up the 155,000 Yemeni rial (US$750) hospital bill - much more than the family can afford. "I have sold everything to pay for their hospital treatment," he said. But it is not over. Adabah has had an operation to encourage tissue growth and needs further operations, and Hanaa has a piece of shrapnel lodged in her eye. "How can I pay for this?" asks their father. "I can't even afford the blood [transfusion]." Many other victims of landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) are faced with huge hospital bills and often have no way of paying for further treatment, according to officials. NMAC head al-Azi said the bill for life-saving treatment at government hospitals prior to the Saada conflict (2004) was covered by the Social Fund for Development and the Yemeni Disability Fund for Care and Rehabilitation. During the war, military hospitals in some cases cared for landmine/ERW victims. However, after the 12 February 2010 ceasefire this is no longer the case and affected families are faced with huge hospital bills. "I have been in contact with the Social Fund to direct money to the victims for life saving treatment," said Omar Mujalli, deputy minister of public health and population. With the health minister's approval $200,000 is to be allocated for the treatment of an estimated 100 victims in the future. According to Mujalli, this money could be available in 2-3 weeks.
Landmine Monitor report
Even before the intermittent fighting in Saada (2004-2009) there were problems with assisting landmine/ERW victims. The Landmine Monitor (LM) 2009 report said many survivors did not register for assistance because they lived in remote areas. According to the report, care for persons with disabilities is primarily urban-based and largely inaccessible to those who need it. Psychosocial support for landmine/ERW victims was very limited. The report also said victim assistance was severely hampered by financial difficulties. Yemen ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and its Optional Protocol in March 2009. In a bid to prevent landmine/ERW accidents, NMAC and several UN agencies, along with international and local NGOs, launched in March a mine risk education campaign targeting 238,000 displaced people in three Yemeni governorates - Saada, Hajjah and Amran. However, with the deadly devices often hidden or moved due to seasonal floods, accidents are likely to happen. Civilians, particularly children, are at the greatest risk, aid workers say.

Von: Sanaa, YEMEN, 3 May 2010 (IRIN)

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