Mine clearance continues in Yemen despite coronavirus spread

As the world marks International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action 2020, Yemen’s mine clearers are hard at work

epaselect epa07224168 Explosives experts collect mines and explosives allegedly planted by the Houthi rebels at several areas, at a position in the port city of Hodeidah, Yemen, 11 December 2018. According to reports, a Saudi-backed project for landmines clearance in Yemen has managed to clear 22,952 land mines and explosives allegedly planted by the Houthi rebels during the recent fighting between the Saudi-backed government forces and the Houthis along Yemen's western coastline and in the port city of Hodeidah.  EPA/NAJEEB ALMAHBOOBI
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As coronavirus shutters people inside under government-mandated lockdowns worldwide, Yemen’s mine clearing teams remain in the field.

Ousama Algosaibi, a programme manager at the Saudi project for landmine clearance, Masam, said his workers were pressing on with their vital work despite the global outbreak.

Coronavirus cases have passed one million worldwide but there are no figures for Yemen due to the protracted conflict, which began in 2014 when Houthi rebels ousted the government from the capital, Sanaa.

“Work is still being carried on, taking into account protecting our teams and personnel from the coronavirus,” Mr Algosaibi said. “Our medical staff have been busy educating our staff and the local population around us on the best way to protect themselves and their families.”

Masam, funded by the King Salman Centre for Relief and Humanitarian Aid, has been operating in Yemen since June 2018.

A staff of 450 people, making up 32 manual clearance teams and five emergency response teams, has cleared 158,404 explosive remnants of war (unexploded ordnance and abandoned explosive ordnance, also known as ERW) and improvised explosive devices since the project began.

Mr Algosaibi said the Houthi rebels had planted mines “randomly” in all areas they occupied.

“Mines are usually used to stop the advance of opposing forces or to defend military positions,” he said.

“That is not the case in Yemen. In Yemen mines were used to terrorise the local civilian population and to deny access to villages, farm land, schools and so on.”

Yemen is one of 58 countries afflicted by the “landmine pandemic”: a scourge of explosive devices from past and current conflicts that affects 60 million people, according to the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining

The organisation launched the #togetheragainstlandmines awareness campaign on April 4 to mark the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action 2020.

“Like the Covid-19 virus, this plague hampers the safety and development of entire nations – only this threat will not disappear with everyone staying at home,” the charity said on its website.

The Landmine Monitor 2019 report, released by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, found that 2018 was the “fourth year in a row with exceptionally high numbers of recorded casualties due to landmines and ERW”. That year, 6,897 people were killed or injured by mines and ERW.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called on March 25 for a ceasefire in Yemen to help avert a Covid-19 disaster, and UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths encouraged both sides to act now as “battlefields are dividing Yemen and making it harder to combat the possible outbreak of Covid-19”.

Mr Algosaibi said more could be done to save Yemenis from horrific, life-changing injuries and death as a result of landmines.

“Yemen is a beautiful country with beautiful people that are facing the horror of mines on daily basis,” he said.

“The international community should assist more in protecting the Yemeni population in this ordeal.”