Landmines have killed and injured about 150 civilians around Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah since November and removing the deadly remnants of war will take decades to complete, a UN military official said on Wednesday.
Maj Gen Michael Beary, the top UN official in rebel-held Hodeidah, said a relative calm since pro-government forces withdrew from the region late last year had allowed the painstaking and dangerous task of removing the mines to begin in earnest.
The area — once a front line in the war between Yemen’s Houthi rebel movement and forces loyal to the internationally recognised government — was “very contaminated” with mines and other unexploded ordnance, he added.
“What we're doing is a lot of mine surveys, establishing where the really dangerous areas are for women and children near clinics, hospitals, schools … to try and ensure the safety of the population is increased,” Maj Gen Beary, a retired Irish infantryman who leads the UN mission in Hodeidah, said in New York.
“It’s a major challenge and it's going to be there for many decades.
“Hardly a week goes by without a child, a woman or a young man losing their life or being seriously injured.”
Civilian casualties have drastically declined across Yemen since a nationwide truce came into effect on April 2.
But deaths from landmines were “increasing as civilians, including children, venture into contaminated front-line areas that were previously inaccessible”, UN envoy Hans Grundberg told the Security Council this week.
Yemen is awash with tens of thousands of landmines. Many were laid by Houthi rebels along the coast, the border with Saudi Arabia and nearby towns and villages during the war that has ravaged the country since 2014, researchers say.
The Arabian Peninsula nation has joined Afghanistan, Angola, Somalia and Cambodia as among the world’s most mine-contaminated countries, where devices maim and kill civilians decades after bloody wars have ground to a halt.
Various UN agencies are working with de-mining groups and Yemen’s government to tackle the problem, which has claimed more than 1,400 lives since 2018, according to one UN estimate.
The state-backed Saudi Project for Landmine Clearance (Masam) has destroyed about 5,000 anti-personnel mines, almost 125,000 anti-tank mines, nearly 200,000 pieces of unexploded ordnance and close to 7,500 improvised explosive devices.
Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the world, has been devastated by almost eight years of war between the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and government forces supported since 2015 by a coalition led by Saudi Arabia.