Community Safety Champions: Helping Reduce Explosive Hazards and Rebuild Trust in Yemen
Feeling safe in your own community is a critical foundation for peacebuilding in a country experiencing protracted conflict.
Now in its seventh year, the conflict in Yemen has displaced people, damaged infrastructure and natural environment, and left explosive hazards scattered across rural and urban areas.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) works with local authorities across Yemen to reestablish basic services, reinstate access to, and restore trust in police and justice services, and pave the way toward a more peaceful future without the threat of explosive hazards.
Khalid: Role Model and Champion of Community Safety
Khalid is a social activist in Hadramout. Despite his fortunate upbringing, Khalid gave up his comfortable lifestyle and committed himself to the community, volunteering with various civil society organizations (CSOs) to raise awareness about the dangers of landmines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
"I have a family and am the father of two daughters. I am keen to ensure that they can have a better, safer future," Khalid says.
Through his work, Khalid was able to establish a network of likeminded, committed people, both inside and outside of Hadramout, that could quickly respond to the urgent needs of his community.
“Despite the fact that there was no armed fighting taking place in my district, landmines and IEDs were spotted in different parts of the city,” explains Khalid. “I was nominated with five others to take part in a course on how to conduct awareness-raising sessions for different ages and on the reporting mechanisms if an explosive threat is found.”
Khalid enrolled in 2017, embarking on his journey to spread awareness and increase safety for his neighbours and friends.
“Despite the good work we did, it was impossible to cover the needs across the whole district with only six qualified individuals,” explains Khalid.
“A few months ago, a cleaning worker wanted to lift a bag and put it in the trash, but the bag had an IED in it. This killed the worker at once.”
In 2021, through UNDP’s Rule of Law Programme, the Responsiveness for Relief and Development (RRD) Foundation recruited Khalid and hundreds of other people from across Yemen to help spread awareness about explosive hazards, including IEDs and landmines.
Side by side with UNDP’s Emergency Mine Action project, which aims to support the operation of the Yemen’s demining authorities, this Counter-IED training initiative has two goals in mind: (1) to improve awareness of and how to identify explosive devices, and (2) to ensure people know how to report them so they can be safely removed from public spaces before resulting in injury, death and/or damage to infrastructure.
“Through this initiative, we were able to reach out to more people using new information, education and communications materials, that were customized to fit the Yemeni culture and environment,” describes Khalid.
To show the different types of IEDs and mines to different audiences, Khalid and his colleagues got creative. To appeal to young children, they decided to use puppetry while for adults they worked with cable television to broadcast video flashes. This was in addition to the field and door-to-door awareness-sessions hosted across the entire community.
“As a result of our efforts, people started to recognize mines and IEDs and how to avoid them. They also started to call the Yemen Executive Mine Action Center (YEMAC) to report these threats and hence save lives.”
Building Trust and Tranquility through Community Mediation
Living in the same district as Khalid is Dr. Faiz, a community leader and university professor. Equally committed to the health and safety of his friends and neighbours, Dr. Faiz hopes to rebuild trust and cooperation amongst the residents in his district.
Since the conflict erupted in 2015, trust in local police has declined and the justice system continues to experience closures and limited-service delivery due to armed fighting, displacement, and political unrest. This has affected communities across Yemen as people are forced to resolve problems informally with the support of respected community leaders like Dr. Faiz, tribal sheikhs, and imams.
“There have been many people knocking at my door asking me to help resolve problems between them,” says Dr. Faiz.
Through UNDP’s Enhanced Security and Protection at the Local Level in Yemen project, Search for Common Ground (SFCG) trained 120 insider mediators in three Yemeni governorates with the goal of improving access to conflict resolution services for Yemeni communities.
Their training covered many topics including conflict scanning and community dialogue. “The training was very helpful and taught me how to remain unbiased. It detailed the proper referral pathways and necessary reporting protocols for formal justice actors,” recalls Dr. Faiz.
In this community in Hadramout, most of the cases requiring mediation are land disputes and they often end peacefully. “However, if one or both sides to the dispute do not agree with the solutions made, then I refer them to the police or judicial services as appropriate.”
“We are not replacing the government or the police, we just act as a first layer in solving our community’s problems,” Dr. Faiz explains.
With support from the Government of the Netherlands, the US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, UNDP and its local partners are supporting Yemenis like Khalid and Dr. Faiz as they work to rebuild stronger more resilient communities.
“My wish is to see my community safe and living in harmony and justice.”
UNDP's Governance and the Rule of Law programme works to balance supply and demand - empowering individuals and communities to understand and claim their rights, while helping institutions to realize those rights in an equitable, just, accountable, transparent, inclusive, and participatory manner.
Activities are implemented with a view to build public trust in Yemen’s formal and informal justice and security institutions, encourage wide and inclusive participation and promote local ownership of the peacebuilding process.