Once Yemen’s commercial hub, Aden now lies in ruins

Nearly half of all of the buildings in Yemen's second city have been severely damaged by the Houthi rebels, including hotels, apartment blocks, hospitals and mosques, reports Mohammed Al Qalisi.

Aden // Building after building, street after street, the destruction stretches far into the distance.

This historic port once served as Yemen’s beating commercial heart. Now mosques, apartment blocks, hospitals and businesses lie in ruins.

Across the city,

The National

was able to survey the scale of the devastation caused by three months of fighting that began when the Houthis invaded the city in March.

Nearly half of all the buildings have been severely damaged, said Hasan Al Aqrabi, who heads Aden’s construction and roads authority. More than 6,500 people have registered saying that their residential or commercial property has been destroyed, he said.

In the worst-hit district of Dar Saad, where the Houthis rebels first entered the city, row upon row of apartment blocks have been left in ruins by the street-to street fighting with Southern Resistance fighters and heavy Houthi shelling. Air strikes from the Saudi-led Arab coalition trying to defeat the Houthis and restore president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, also damaged buildings.

The rebels then moved on to Khour Maksarare, an upmarket district where hotels, cafes and restaurants overlooking the beach now lie empty and strewn with rubble. The six-storey Mercure Hotel now stands with a gaping hole in its facade.

“We used to be happy in Aden and Aden used to be the symbol of Yemen’s beauty, but the war has killed that beauty,” said Ashraf Ali, 32, whose home in Khour Maksarare was destroyed in the fighting.

The shop he owned in nearby Sahel Abyan, was also levelled. Like most people in Aden Mr Ali now has no source of income to support his five children. “I depend on the humanitarian aid,” he said, referring to relief supplies provided by UAE organisations.

He and his family are currently staying in the ticket office of the Al Hobaishi football stadium where many people sought refuge during the fighting.

Hundreds of others across the city have been left homeless and many who fled to other Yemeni provinces or even overseas have returned to find their homes destroyed. Across the city, families cram into the apartments of friends and relatives, while hotels are packed with people trying to arrange a more permanent solution.

The city’s services have also suffered extensive damage. During the worst of the fighting, there was no electricity or water supplies.

One of the city’s hospitals was badly damaged while another was flattened after Houthis took up positions inside.

Odai Salem, 32, a fisherman from Aden’s Seerah district, has been staying in a hotel with his parents and four children since Houthis chased them from their home in the middle of July. Shortly after, their house was levelled by an airstrike targeting a Houthi leader and his guards who had taken the building next door.

“The owner of the hotel asked me to leave, but my house is not suitable to live in, so I am trying to remain at the hotel until the government reconstructs it,” Mr Salem said.

He added that he did not have the finances to rebuild it himself and hopes the government will also compensate the hotel owner for taking in those affected by the war.

The Houthi invasion has also damaged many of the historic buildings in the city, which, with its deep natural harbour and strategic location near the entrance to the Red Sea, has served as a port for thousands of years.

The city’s war museum was severely damaged and only the two minarets of the Al Husaini Mosque, built in 1864, remain standing.

Al Baderi Church, one of Aden’s most famous landmarks located in the Crater district, was also severely damaged.

The Houthis stormed the church at the start of April, destroyed the statues inside and scrawled slogans on the walls, said Nizar Ali, a guard at the building which dates to the 1920s.

“It was a historic place that many visitors from different religions visited, and this is how Aden used to be, but the Houthi rebels wanted Aden to be the city of war,” he said.

When the Houthis attacked Ali broke into tears and the rebels falsely accused him of not being a Muslim.

“Even if there [is] reconstruction for everything in Aden, I think it is difficult to reconstruct the historic places such as this church,” he said.

With security restored and aid flowing into the city, thanks to a massive UAE-led operation, the residents’ thoughts are turning to reconstruction.

Mr Al Aqrabi, the city official, said they are preparing committees that will record the damage.

He praised the UAE for starting to help repair and rebuild key parts of the infrastructure including the airport, schools, police offices and the presidential palace.

The UAE, which sent troops to drive the rebels from the city and train pro-Hadi forces, has already opened electricity and water stations in the city, he said. Electricity is now available 12 hours a day as a result.

“In two weeks, we will send a whole report of the damage in Aden to president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi to agree, then the reconstruction will begin with the help of the UAE and other gulf countries,” Mr Al Aqrabi said.