Landmines, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and other explosive remnants of war (ERW) have left physical, emotional, and economic scars on Yemeni civilians. Survivors of these deadly dangers may lose limbs and face significant psychological trauma for the remainder of their lives. Compounding their plight, social stigmas may combine with their physical injuries and lasting mental scars to prevent them from earning a livelihood, often leaving survivors and their families in dire straits. To help Yemen’s landmine and ERW survivors begin the healing and move past these challenges, the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs has partnered with Arlington, Virginia-based Marshall Legacy Institute (MLI) to provide medical care, vocational training, and self-employment opportunities. These services help survivors reintegrate into their communities and provide vital skills-based training to improve their quality of life.
Providing survivors with properly fitting prosthetics is one way this initiative is helping. Survivor Abdulrahman Abdullah Saeed Ali from the Al-Khokhah District of Hodaydah was fitted with two prosthetic legs by MLI.
Through physical therapy and vocational training provided by MLI and the Yemeni Association of Landmine Survivors, Abdulrahman learned how to walk on his new legs and trained as a weaver.This valuable new skill gave Abdulrahman the ability to sell goods in the market, earning a livelihood that provides for him and his family. Since 2017, U.S. assistance has helped more than 300 people like Abdulrahman to have similar success.
Explosive Hazards in Yemen
Landmines, Unexploded Ordnance (UXO), and IEDs have plagued Yemen for decades, indiscriminately killing civilians and hindering economic development. Prior to the current conflict, Yemen was only a few years away from clearing its last remaining landmines. However, the Houthi insurgency and Yemeni Civil War quickly erased this progress, and Iran-backed Houthi forces laid over one million landmines and IEDs across the country. These explosive hazards threaten the lives and livelihoods of local communities, block access to infrastructure and basic services, and hinder the delivery of humanitarian assistance to millions of civilians battling food insecurity.
As part of the United States’ broader Yemen strategy, the State Department works closely with a wide range of Yemeni stakeholders, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations (NGO) to clear landmines, IEDs, and other ERW that threaten civilians. In addition to providing landmine survivors with prosthetics and vocational training, the United States is the largest donor to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP)’s ongoing efforts to combat explosive hazard contamination. The U.S. also supports several NGO partners with clearing explosive hazards and building Yemeni demining authorities’ capacity to coordinate and oversee this vital, life-saving work. These efforts improve Yemeni civilians’ access to basic services, facilitate urgent delivery of humanitarian aid where it is needed most, opens-up land to safe and productive use, and allows people reeling from years of conflict to pursue more peaceful and prosperous futures.
Since 1997, the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM/WRA) has funded landmine and ERW clearance across Yemen. Currently, PM/WRA is working with UNDP and the HALO Trust (HALO) to deploy clearance, survey, and explosive ordnance risk education teams in coordination with Yemen’s primary mine clearance organization, the Yemen Executive Mine Action Center (YEMAC). In July 2020, HALO became the first international NGO to deploy survey and clearance teams in the country, focusing primarily on the Jebel Hadeed area of Central Aden due to its proximity to a large population center.
This assistance is crucial to ensuring critical infrastructure sites (such as schools, hospitals, electrical grids, and clean water pipelines) are ERW-free, making it safe for aid workers to restore basic community services. It also allows arable land to be returned to cultivation and homes to be rebuilt and frees people from the fear of death that accompanies such simple acts as playing, walking to work, or collecting clean water. Since 2016, UNDP’s mine action programs have returned over 27,000,000 square meters (6,672 acres) of previously contaminated land to communities, reopening economic activity in villages across the country, including in the small village of Fulk outside of Mukalla city. In December 2020, villagers there expressed optimism for the first time in years as many activities that had been halted due to ERW contamination were now starting up again, including farming, sheep herding, and lumber collection.
Yemen has two major national mine action entities, the YEMAC – which has worked to clear landmines and ERW since its establishment in 1999 – and the Yemen Mine Action Coordination Center (YMACC), just established last year to help coordinate efforts by the growing number of demining assistance providers now active. While Yemen’s current economic crisis and fragility leave the YEMAC and YMACC reliant on international support for success, they will be the key to addressing landmine and ERW contamination in the years ahead as Yemen’s recovery begins to take hold.
To ensure both of these Yemeni government agencies are up to the task, the United States is committed to building their respective capacities in a sustainable manner, ensuring that an eventually self-reliant Yemen will be able to maintain progress clearing mines and ERW. UNDP has trained over 100 YEMAC employees while other explosive ordnance destruction training sessions have been provided by the Danish Demining Group and HALO. The United States has also funded the Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) to provide significant information management support to the newly established YMACC. With GICHD’s support, the YMACC will have a modern data collection and information management system that will enhance its coordination capabilities.
The United States is proud to be among the largest donors to demining engagement in Yemen, providing more than $48 million to support mine action operations since 1997. Demining plays a critical role in facilitating the delivery of humanitarian assistance in Yemen and the United States remains dedicated to supporting this life-saving work.
The United States is the world’s single largest financial supporter of humanitarian demining and other conventional weapons destruction programs. Since 1993, the United States has contributed more than $4 billion to more than 100 countries around the world to reduce the harmful worldwide effects of at-risk, illicitly-proliferated, and indiscriminately-used conventional weapons of war.
To learn more about the United States’ global conventional weapons destruction efforts, check out our annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety, and follow us on Twitter @StateDeptPM.
About the Author: Daniel Gurley serves as the assistant program manager for Yemen in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement at the U.S. Department of State.