I would like particularly to dwell on the suffering of children in this ghastly war, as this week children are returning to school after an 8 month gap in their education since March. When children stopped going to school because of the aerial bombardment, people thought it would be a short time until the war was over. Now, 224 days later, they are still subject to a barrage of bombs, but people want to get on with their lives. Education will still be difficult. Many schools are destroyed or damaged, and in some areas the remaining intact schools are so far away that it will not be possible to send children to school, such as in Saada governate. Most schools do not have electricity or water, and also lack basic equipment such as paper because of the blockade. So despite the fact that the pace of the war has not diminished and the blockade stops educational equipment from arriving, the people of Yemen do not want their children to be a lost generation and they have decided that they must go to school, whatever happens. This will not be easy, as bombs can still be heard day and night, and many children are suffering from stress because of it. But congratulations, mabruk Yemen, on getting your schools up and running. And what courage those teachers must have.
Children’s lives are affected in many different ways in this war. The blockade has meant that petrol cannot be imported, and hence water cannot be pumped from aquifers. I had water delivered direct to my home from the water authorities when I lived in Yemen, but this is a thing of the past now. People collect water from tankers, using plastic cartons, limiting them to 5 litres a day per person – for all tasks, drinking, washing, cooking, and laundering clothes. The severe shortage of clean water has caused high rates of water borne diseases, such as diarrhoea. The figures are shocking – half a million children at risk of severe malnutrition, and over 100,000 treated for severe malnutrition. I cannot find any figures for deaths due to malnutrition, but as hospitals have been destroyed, equipment and medicines cannot reach Yemen due to the blockade; my guess is that the death rate is high.
There is also the issue of child soldiers. They do not fight in armies as far as I know, but they do fight with militias; the Houthis have been accused by the Saudi-led coalition, but my guess is that they are fighting with other militias too. They are not forced to fight; they want to do so. The constant bombs in the north – over 40,000 have been dropped in 7.5 months – which destroy civilian homes and infrastructure – has made many in the population feel that the Saudi coalition is conducting a foreign invasion and it is their duty to fight. Particularly in the Saada province, which has suffered wars since 2004, many schools have been destroyed and many children cannot get to school. These children work in subsidence farms or sell items in the roads to passing drivers – a mini business – and many of them are illiterate. It is not surprising that adolescents decide to fight, as it gives them a moment of glory that they will not otherwise experience in their dreary lives. This is not to excuse child soldiers, but it is to explain it.
And last of all, so many children have been killed in this dreadful war. Nearly 50% of the population were under 18 in Yemen; it had one of the highest fertility rates in the world. So inevitably, there are many children killed when bombs fall in civilian areas – which is caused by militias, armies, and air bombardment.
As well as a ferocious ground war and an inhumane aerial assault, nature also seems to have decided to attack Yemen, this time Hadramaut, Mukalla and the Island of Soqatra, the areas so far not directly affected by war. Again, it seems that Yemen is not worthy of top slot in the news reports in UK as the news did not hit the headlines. But the cyclone has been reported in a low key manner in some media outlets. The cyclone is an extremely rare occurrence, the first time in over 40 years. Waves were reported as over 10 metres, winds were recorded as 140mph and over 10 years’ worth of rain fell in two days. Many of the houses in this region are made of mud bricks, and there has been devastation of housing stock, I have been told more homes destroyed in Mukalla than in Aden, where 50% of housing stock was destroyed in the ground war there. There was a surprisingly low death rate – just 8 deaths – as the population moved inland. In Soqatra, used to batterings from high winds and with a good system in place for evacuation, 400 homes were destroyed.
In Soqatra, already Oman and UAE have offered assistance. It is not so easy in the mainland, because the worst hit town, Mukalla, in under the control of Al Qaeda militias, as are many areas along the southeast coast. This will make overseas relief agencies unwilling to assist because of the high risk to any workers or volunteers going there.
In the rest of Yemen, the weather has not halted the war. The ground war, with Islah mililtias against the Houthi-Saleh alliance continues in Taiz; I have regular photos of gruesome corpses burned after missiles were aimed into civilian areas. I heard news that weapons have been dropped to areas of Taiz held by Islah militias by the Saudi-led coalition; one such plane was reported as destroyed by missiles. The Taiz population have been supporters of Islah for some time, and most have a strong anti-Houthi stance. Hence there have been photos this week of many within the population carrying munitions through mountain roads to reach militias; carried by hand or on donkeys. It has also been reported that troops from the Saudi-led coalition have reached the outskirts of Taiz city.
And yes, the people of Taiz call the Houthis ‘terrorists’, and the bit of the army still loyal to Hadi (there are reputed to be 10,000 newly trained Yemeni soldiers) they call ‘the legitimate army’. Those that support the Saleh/Houthi alliance call the army loyal to Saleh as the ‘Yemen army’ and the militias fighting them as ‘terrorists’. It will take a long time for Yemeni people to put these passions behind them, and move towards peaceful coexistence.
There have been many reports of the continued air assaults, many of them targeting civilian homes, and with many civilian casualties. After seven and a half months, it is almost not news, I seem to say the same thing every week and I am fearful that some are finding this ‘news’ repetitive. For example, I was told two days ago, that there had been 120 bombs dropped on north Yemen in 24 hours. A village south of Sanaa was destroyed by 3 missiles – the second and third a few minutes after the first, called ‘double tap’ – to kill the rescuers. I don’t think that in any previous war there has been such non-stop bombing for so long, with some areas such as Saada still having had bomb attacks every day. I even saw pictures of a lorry full of bee hives destroyed today. They must be running out of targets. In Sanaa, there was a big protest against the war and the blockade this week.
An item that was reported in Sanaa over the last couple of days is the appearance of a Russian plane, which landed directly in Sanaa airport, rather than going to Djibouti to have its cargo checked. The mystery is how this actually happened, with Saudi controlling airspace. After the plane landed and 20 tons of humanitarian aid delivered, it was blocked from leaving the airport by Saudi Arabia, but happily it is on its way back to Russia now, the Saudis and Russians reaching agreement, presumably.
The UN has announced that the peace talks are still going to happen, and they have named the date as th 15th November. My thoughts are that Saudi Arabia hopes that it will have recaptured Taiz at this point, and they are making noises that sound as if they are expecting the war to end. That won’t mean peace for many years. The polarisation of Yemenis and issues such as the growth of Al Qaeda and the secessionist movement in the old South Yemen means that there are plenty of internal battles that are likely to keep festering. But it would be a start on the long road to peace if the Houthi/Saleh alliance could reach some sort of agreement with the Saudi-led coalition and Hadi. On that positive note, I will end this week’s update.