Alarming number of explosives in Aden

06 Feb 2012

imageA Demining specialist removing an anti-personnel mine. (Photo: YEMAC)

SANA’A – Seven displaced children were injured after playing with an explosive device in Aden on Wednesday. Around 17,000 explosive remnants of war and land mines were removed from Abyan since June 2011, according to The Yemen Mine Action Committee (YEMAC) in Aden.

The area is not yet clear of explosives, it warned, though some roads – including the main road to Zunjubar – and a number of residential neighborhoods are now safe.

“Seven displaced children were injured in Al-Qadisea school in Aden a few days ago, the children were playing with an explosive object,” said Qaid Saleh, director of the (YEMAC) Aden branch. He added that the vast majority of explosive objects reported and retrieved were locally made and thus more dangerous.

Since May, around 100,000 people fled from Abyan to Aden and Lahj due to the violent clashes between the state, militant groups, and Islamic militias who took over different districts in Abyan governorate. Those Internally Displaced People (IDPs) have been placed with host communities as well as public schools and other premises in Aden and Lahj.  According to YEMAC, some have brought armory and explosive materials into the host communities.

In response, YEMAC has devised a comprehensive plan to undertake a massive public education and awareness campaign in response to the community needs in partnership with civil society and humanitarian partners.

Gustavo Gonzalez, UNDP/Yemen senior country director, told the Yemen Times that they are supporting YEMAC’s efforts in the campaign, stating that the UNDP is supporting the establishment of a network for Mine Risk Education compromising of local NGOs and international humanitarian partners under the leadership of YEMNAC. This network aims at targeting 200,000 people affected by conflict to help them become aware of the dangers and mitigating the risks in dealing with mines and unexploded ordinance.

A new level of threat

According to Saleh of YEMAC, the militant groups implant mines and explosive devices randomly and in unpredictable locations. He stated that if the mines were implanted in a more strategic pattern, mine clearance and disposal would be an easier job. “The danger is high now that some IDPs have returned to Abyan, as they are actually in areas that mines were implanted in,” he added.

Evidently, some of the IDPs in Aden who have been repatriated to Abyan are now at risk of losing their lives due to the random blasts and mines, hazardous and unexploded ordinances.

The YEMAC does not have clear maps on the risk areas with mines or that have witnessed conflict. These areas are also considered unsafe due to the continued presence of militant groups’ and the likelihood of a relapse into conflict. 

Clearing risks, rebuilding lives

Saleh further indicated that the clearance of the road between Aden and Abyan included significant risks for the clearance teams, but it was a priority given that this road is like a life vain for the communities across the governorates of Aden and Abyan. He added that before the road was cleared, many displaced people who tried to get from Zunjubar to Aden or vice versa were at risk of losing their lives due to the random fights in the alternative road – which includes an eight-hour drive across conflict areas in Abyan and Lahj.

Abdullah Sarhan, a member of the clearance team at YEMAC, Aden, told the Yemen Times that working on clearing Abayn’s road is like “being in the middle of a battle”.

“One of our colleagues was killed and another six were injured,” said Sarhan, “this is how we work.” The team consists of seven groups that work in coordination with a military force ensuring that the road is safe and not targeted during the clearance operation. Once the explosive remnants are collected they are disposed of them by professional means.

Despite the risks and costs, the YEMAC teams seem persistent in continuing their work in the governorate. The clearance also helped the delivery of humanitarian aid and foodstuffs into the governorate, particularly through local residents and informal social welfare networks.

Gonzalez has praised the work of YEMAC, stating that Yemen is one of the few countries in the world having a strong and reliable national Institution [YEMAC] dealing with mine-related activities.

First published in the Front page of YemenTimes, and it is also published online