Since last September, 51,000 metric tonnes of wheat have remained, tucked away at the Red Sea Mills in the port city of Hodeida. It is a painful irony. Ten million Yemenis are on the brink of famine and starvation and this wheat could have fed 3.7 million people for an entire month.
Until last month, however, the Red Sea Mills were simply not accessible. Not only obstructed by conflict, the working area was littered with unexploded mortar and artillery rounds. Even if they could have reached the site, workers would have risked their lives to do so.
Presence of mines and explosives
Since the start of conflict in 2015, explosives have presented a major challenge in Yemen. According to the Civilian Impact Monitoring Report, landmines caused 233 civilian casualties, last year alone.
Aside from immediate physical danger, explosives obstruct emergency assistance – such as the delivery of food. They also damage infrastructure necessary to service delivery, leaving the majority without access to clean water, basic health care or education. In fact, according to indicators on the Human Development Index, the past 20 years of development have effectively been reversed.
Today, there are thousands of landmines and remnants spread across the country, yet unexploded. Unless they are cleared and destroyed, Yemeni lives will be at risk for years to come.
UNDP mine action
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) works with the Yemeni Executive Mine Action Center (YEMAC) to clear explosives, while improving the skills and competence of national institutions to conduct demining exercises, without external assistance.
On 26 February 2019 – after six months and lengthy negotiations – the area near the Red Sea Mills became more accessible once again. Equally important is that, since mid-January, YEMAC teams had been working to clear more than 1,000 explosive remnants from the site so that workers could resume their work with confidence.
“We cannot prevent explosive contamination,” says YEMAC Site Supervisor, Abdulsalam Saeed. “But we can destroy it and remove the threat.”
Progress and next steps
To date, approximately 1,250 YEMAC staff have been trained, nationwide. The next steps will include raising additional funds, decentralizing coordination and procuring equipment to help YEMAC fully meet the International Mine Action Standards.
In the meantime, “YEMAC has demonstrated a high level of resourcefulness,” says Stephen Bryant, Chief Technical Advisor at UNDP’s Mine Action Project in Yemen. “And they have achieved good results – even with limited resources and under the constant threat of artillery attack.”
Located close to conflict frontlines, the Red Sea Mills are subject to re-contamination. However, YEMAC remains in the area, poised to conduct clearance operations and clear the way for business-as-usual.
Ultimately, the UNDP Mine Action Project will support the clearance of over 30 million square meters and destroy more than a million mines and other unexploded ordnance. The mine risk education activities of YEMAC and other partners will aim to reach over 12.5 million people and directly assist all those in need with various aid. An estimated 15 million people throughout Yemen will benefit.