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At a glance: Yemen

In Yemen, landmines and unexploded ordnance pose grave threats to children

© UNICEF Yemen/2012/Simonsen
Ten-year-old Ameed lost one leg and maimed the other when he accidentally stepped on a landmine while playing in a market in Sana'a, Yemen.

By Sven G. Simonsen

SANA’A, Yemen, 12 July 2012 – Ten-year-old Ameed doesn’t enjoy leaving the house so much anymore, but today he has to. His father is taking him to the hospital. Two months ago, he stepped on a landmine, which destroyed one leg and maimed the other. Now, the pain has gotten worse.

With some luck, Ameed will get the chance to be fitted for a prosthetic leg so that when the remaining operations are done – doctors expect he will need three more to remove the metal fragments in his foot and his shoulder – he may be able to walk again.

Ameed is one of an increasing number of child victims of landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) in Yemen. In the first four months of this year alone, 16 children were killed and 24 maimed in 20 incidents. Most of these victims were boys playing outdoors.

© UNICEF Yemen/2012/Simonsen
Ten-year-old Ameed, victim of a landmine blast, plays with his siblings at their home in Sana'a, Yemen.

Struggling to pay for care

Ameed lives with his parents and his four younger siblings. He moves around by pulling himself along the floor; his wheelchair is too big for the house’s small rooms and narrow hallway.

He doesn’t remember much of what happened the day he lost his leg. He had gone with some friends to play at a market a few kilometres from his house; it was a place where they often played.

“Then suddenly I stepped on the mine,” he said. “After that, I don’t remember anything until I woke up and there were people around helping me.”

Ameed spent two months hospitalized. He received a lot of attention and sympathy; even the prime minister visited. Still, his family struggled to afford his care. Ameed’s father is a soldier with the First Armoured Division; paying the hospital bills was impossible on his salary. It was UNICEF, through its partner the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), that covered the cost of the operations.

“All the children are scared of that place now; we don’t go there anymore,” said one of Ameed’s brothers. Yet no assessment or mapping of landmines has been taken place there.

© UNICEF Yemen/2012/Simonsen
Ameed is among an increasing number of child victims of landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) in Yemen.

A widespread problem

Mines and UXO are particularly serious threats in the conflict-affected areas in Yemen’s north, where government forces and Al-Houthi rebels fought in six rounds of conflict between 2004 and 2010, and in the south, especially Abyan governorate, where fighting is ongoing between government forces and Ansar Al-Sharia/Al-Qaeda.

But the threat is real elsewhere, too. In the Al-Hasaba area of Sana’a, where Ameed lives, buildings have been shot to rubble, and at others, sandbags are stacked on rooftops to shield snipers, reminders of the intensity of the fighting that took place here in 2011 between government forces and the First Armoured Division. Landmines were one of the weapons used in that struggle.

Working hard to recover

“I have a lot of pain in my leg,” Ameed said. “I can’t sleep at night anymore.”

Still, he is working hard to recover. He is cheerful in the company of his brothers and sisters, and has been studying to keep up with his fourth grade classmates. Through an arrangement with the school, Ameed has been studying at home. He will go to school for exams, which begin in five days. He is prepared, but the lack of sleep is worrying.

Yesterday, Ameed’s father took him back to school for the first time since the accident. They met with the principal to discuss Ameed’s attendance and exams. When the students saw Ameed arrive, they gathered around to ask how he was doing.

“I was so happy,” he recalled, smiling widely, “especially when I met my friends again. It felt as if nothing had happened to me.”




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