It was a matter of a second when Fatahiye Salah‘s life changed forever. She was picking up wood with her brother-in-law and two of her children when she stepped on a land mine. “I saw my leg flying through the air. My toes landed further away.”
The story of the 27-year-old woman is no exception in Yemen. The country is estimated to have around 1.1 million landmines: more than one per 30 inhabitants. Thousands of people lost one or more limbs in recent years. Hundreds died.
Middle East correspondent Daisy Mohr spoke to Fatahiye with the help of a local cameraman in Yemen. In the video, the woman tells what happened to her:
The United Nations calls the war in Yemen the largest humanitarian crisis in the world. There has been a civil war in the country for years between Houthi rebels, supported by Iran, and the government in the south. The latter has been working with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates since 2015.
The protracted battle affects just about everyone in the country. More than 20 out of 30 million Yemenis live in food insecurity and the harsh conditions regularly break out diseases such as cholera.
In addition, there are people like Fatahiye, who are directly victims of weapons violence. The Civilian Impact Monitoring Project, which is researching it, has counted over 11,000 civilian casualties in Yemen since the end of 2017.
“ The way the war in Yemen is waged, by all the warring parties involved, raises many questions,” says Pieter Wezeman. He conducts research at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute on arms trafficking, particularly in the Middle East.
“ The use of weapons by Saudi Arabia in Yemen has been strongly criticized because it is assumed that they have been deployed in a way contrary to international law. It is also said that Saudi Arabia has deliberately caused civilian casualties in air strikes, but that kind of claim is difficult to prove.”
Several Western countries, including the Netherlands, imposed severe restrictions on the supply of new weapons to Saudi Arabia after continuing criticism. But that does not apply to all countries. By far the largest suppliers, the US and the UK, continued. Saudi Arabia receives about 60 percent of its weapons from the US, a quarter of the British. France and Spain also continued to supply Saudi Arabia almost without restriction.
Tonight, the new US President Biden announced that he would temporarily suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
The Houthi rebels in Yemen are also guilty of violations of war law. Thus, the use of landmines, which are prohibited under various war treaties, is mainly attributed to them.
Also 25-year-old Fatahiye suspects that the mine she stepped on was laid down by the Houthis. Human Rights Watch describes in a report that the mines are disguised as stones or logs, so that they do not stand out in the landscape. As a result, many children become victims of it.
With money from Saudi Arabia, a demining programme has been set up in recent years with the aim of removing explosives areas in which citizens live. More than 200,000 landmines have now been dismantled, the Saudis reported at the end of last year. But there is much criticism of Saudi Arabia’s role as a benefactor. In the Yemeni landscape there are also dangerous cluster bombs, which were fired during Saudi air strikes.
The conflict in Yemen is hopeless, outlines researcher Pieter Wezeman. “Outside Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, all countries agree that there is actually no military solution. Attempts to defeat the Houthis militarily only lead to an extension of the conflict. The conclusion is that this can only be solved by diplomatic politics.”
For Fatahiye Salah, too, the situation is hopeless. After she lost her leg, her husband left her because he did not see a future with a woman with a leg. Fataha now lives in an apartment with her five children and tries to survive the little she makes with a food stand.
In a clinic in the city, she was given a prosthesis, which allows her to walk again. “That clinic saved my life. Without that prosthesis, I wouldn‘t have made it,” she says. Yet she holds her heart for the moment when violence breaks out again in her city of Taiz. “I used to be able to run away, then I was fast. But now, without a leg, even that doesn’t work anymore.”