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Taiz: Life and death in Yemen's theatre of war Open in fullscreen

Khalid al-Karimi and Weam Abdulmalik

Taiz: Life and death in Yemen's theatre of war

More than 16,000 people have been injured in Taiz alone [AFP]

Date of publication: 7 April, 2017

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In-depth: Thousands of people have died, and even more injured and displaced from their homes as fighting rages, Khalid al-Karimi and Weam Abdulmalik report from Yemen.

Living in a city ravaged by two years of war, 12-year-old Khaled walks barefoot in worn-out clothes, struggling daily to provide for himself and his family.

The third-grader and his family have been living in an unfinished school building in Taiz city since they were displaced from their home in the al-Jamla neighbourhood in 2015.

Khaled's older brother was injured several months ago, when shrapnel hit his body duringclashes between Houthi militants and pro-government forces. He has since recovered, and the two brothers now pick up rubbish and beg to help their family make a living.

They are members of the marginalised Muhamasheen community, struggling to scrape by on the edges of Yemeni society. 

"I have been working to take the garbage out of houses in return for a meagre amount of money. I have no one to care for me or my family," Khaled told The New Arab. "In peacetime, we used to live better than now."

He is just one of countless children bearing the brunt of war in this densely populated city, which has now been under siege for more than a year. Families living here struggle to provide food, water and other basic necessities for their families.

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"Seventeen million people - almost two thirds of [Yemen's] population - are critically food insecure and require urgent humanitarian assistance," said the International Rescue Committee, a global humanitarian aid organisation, in a recent statement.

But the situation is particularly dire in Taiz governorate, with a population of more than two million people.

 
Saeed Hasn, a teacher, opened this stall to earn a living
after the schools shut down [Khalid al-Karimi]


The Coalition of Humanitarian Relief-Taiz, a non-profit civil body, has estimated that 178,556 families in the city have been displaced from their homes due to the war. Displacement is rising as the war rages on.

According to locals, Houthi fighters have been laying siege to the eastern and northern areas of the main city, although pro-government forces have partially broken the siege in the west. The southern area of Taiz is mountainous, and many people remain trapped amid deteriorating humanitarian conditions - including the shutdown of hospitals and widespread economic collapse. 

The Houthi group say its fighters have not placed the city under siege; that they only combat the "[Islamic State group] militants and the mercenaries".

More than 3,400 civilians have died in Taiz over the past two years - and more than 16,000 have been injured, according to the local health office. 

Life as struggle

Saeed Hasn, who was a schoolteacher in Taiz before the war broke out, says that it has become incredibly difficult to obtain food and water. 

With government salaries unpaid for months, the 40-year-old opened a rooftop stall to sell basic commodities, in an effort to make some money to feed his six children. But it did not go well.

"The continuing war has hurt my stand," Hasn lamented. "The prices of goods soared, and this hindered the profitability. I find difficulty in obtaining the goods. Also, the sales are weak, given the financial situation of the people."

As he struggles to keep his shop afloat, Hasn said that residents are becoming increasingly "fed up" with Yemen's war.

"We want any solution, military or political. We are not able to provide for our families," he said. "I did not expect we would reach this level of destruction and displacement."

Meanwhile, Zakria al-Himyari, a university student in Taiz, has been tackling two tasks: resistance and studies. In between college courses, he heads to the frontlines to "defend" his city. 

"It was difficult at the beginning to juggle my studies and combat," Himyari said. "With the passage of time, it has become a routine matter. I divide my day into three shifts: university, resistance and relaxation... I prefer the pen to the gun, [but] this status quo has compelled us to carry weapons."

Despite the ongoing war, Himyari remains optimistic that he will be able to complete his studies and begin a career as a software engineer.

"I have not lost hope," he tells The New Arab.

In recent days, pro-government forces in Taiz have been gaining ground, recapturing positions from the Houthis and allied forces, including Mokha port in January - a gain that could curb the smuggling of weapons to the Houthis in Taiz and other battle zones.

 
[Click to enlarge]


Mohammed Altwaiji, a 23-year-old Taiz resident, is pleased with these developments.

But he notes that security is a long way from being firmly established in his city.

"This insecurity is not good for Taiz and its people," he warned.

"Instead, the continuing infighting [among pro-government militias] encourages the Houthi militias to continue their military activities on the Taiz frontlines. This is disappointing."

Two main pro-government groups have been clashing in Taiz city amid a struggle for control over the local khat market - a mildly hallucinogenic shrub - which provides a source of income. This internal dispute has worsened the security situation in the city.

This month, protesters took to the streets in Taiz, calling on local authorities - the city centre is currently controlled by pro-government fighters and the military - to address the ongoing security vacuum. 

"The [pro-government] militias should be commanded by specific officials or leaders," said Altwaiji. "The absence of united leadership will not bring the rule of law."

Khalid Al-Karimi is a freelance reporter and translator. He is a staff member of the Sanaa-based Yemeni Media Center and previously worked as a full-time editor and reporter for the Yemen Times newspaper. 

Follow him on Twitter: @Khalidkarimi205

Weam Abdulmalik is a Taiz-based Yemeni reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @weamabdulmalik


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