The scars of North Yemen’s wars

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The northern region of Saada, on the Saudi border, bears the hallmarks of six years of conflict.

Al Jazeera English, Benjamin Wiacek

Saada, Yemen – People in this war-torn northern region of Yemen, bordering Saudi Arabia, felt hopeful at the start of the 2011 revolution, believing that change would bring life back to their forgotten governorate. After six years of wars that devastated the region amid quasi-indifference from the international community and a media blackout, Saada still bears the scars of conflict.

In 2004, the region’s Zaydi revivalist movement – a Shia school of thought with theological similarities to Sunni Islam – whose members in this region are known both as Ansar Allah, or “Houthis”, after their first leader, Hussein Badr al-Din al-Houthi – denounced their marginalisation at the hands of then-president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Government forces waged a war against the followers of their movement – the Masirah – accusing them of wanting to restore the rule of Islamic imams in Yemen, as had been the case under the Hashemite monarchy before the 1962 revolution. The Houthis’ spokesperson, however, outright rejected these claims on numerous occasions.

Six rounds of on and off fighting continued, with the involvement of Saudi Arabia in the last war of 2009. During the wars, tens of thousands were killed, including women and children, and more than 340,000 people were displaced, according to the UN and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC).

A ceasefire was finally reached in February 2010 and, to date, it has been more or less respected.

While the official war between the government forces and the movement has ended, the aftermath is still far from over, and renewed violence is always a very real potential. Drones continue to hover over Saada city, and children say their sound reminds them of the past fighting, where wounded civilians filled the cities and homes were destroyed.

While the government’s reconstruction fund has given some compensation to families, whose homes are most visible along this city’s main road, the majority who live inside the old city are still waiting, and have not yet received any funds to rebuild.

Many of the civilians injured also did not receive financial support, and most have to travel six hours to Sanaa for treatment, due to the lack of medical facilities and doctors in the region. Mines and explosive debris continue to wound civilians.

“There is no week that passes wihout hearing of a new wounded person injured,” explained Hamoud Ghabish, supervisor for the Physically Handicapped Society in Saada, who himself lost a leg in a mine explosion.


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