Minefields and mountain tracks

We are about to arrive in Al Mocha, a historic port city on Yemen’s Red Sea coast. The road is paved, straight, and empty. The sun is setting, and the wind is driving the desert sand into our path.

Then, on the horizon, we see rocks on the ground. A sign here that we can’t move further. An airstrike has partially destroyed the bridge ahead.

Like most major cities in Yemen, Al Mocha has witnessed its share of bombs since the violence here escalated in 2015. Formerly a prosperous trading centre exporting coffee and dates, the port of Al Mocha is now a strategic military point. This is due to its proximity to the Bab Al Mandab Strait – a critical thoroughfare for world trade, with up to 30 per cent of the world’s oil shipped through its waters.

Al Mocha was first taken by Ansar Allah, also known as the Houthis. Then, in 2017, it was taken over by the military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE. During the clashes, all sides indiscriminately bombed some of Al Mocha’s most vital infrastructure – strategic roads, bridges, power plants, health clinics, and schools.

I am traveling here as part of my work for the Giving Hope For Them (GHFT). GHFT provides humanitarian aid across the country. Our teams build solar water pumps and latrines, rebuild schools and support unpaid teachers, provide cash so families can buy food and pay their rent, and construct basic shelters to help some of the four million displaced people scattered across Yemen.

These displaced communities and families are some of the most vulnerable and remote communities in the country.  Many have been forced to flee by violence during the last six years, while others have fled more recently because of floods. We support people from the Muhamasheen community, a marginalised group in Yemen, as they return to areas close to the conflict frontlines. We also help students whose schools have been bombed.

My job is to let the rest of the world know what is happening here on the ground by telling stories like this one.

Driving through a minefield

On the way to one of our projects, at the Al-Yaqadha school on the city’s outskirts, we discover a minefield surrounding the road. Red and white painted stones indicate the safe route through. Above all, it is vital to avoid straying onto the red side.

This time, we are on a well-marked road, but sometimes things are not that clear. According to the United Nations, more than 263 landmines and unexploded ordnance incidents were reported between January and June 2021, across 49 different districts.

Under international law, conflict parties are prohibited from laying mines. They are also required to respect civilian infrastructure and avoid direct attacks on schools, hospitals, water systems, roads and bridges – taking precautions to minimise harm.

But little remains of the original Al-Yaqadha school except an enormous pile of rocks on the ground. An airstrike destroyed the building. Everything had to be rebuilt: classrooms, solar panels for electricity, and toilets.

Meanwhile, to get to our other “hard-to-reach” projects, we must find ways to get around these hurdles and some of the 50 frontlines in Yemen, which block many of the main roads.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply