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Civilians: casualties of banned weapons

Explosive weapons

Civilians in Yemen are seriously affected by bomb attacks and the explosive remnants of war they leave behind, and by anti-personnel mines and improvised explosive devices acting as mines[1]. Nearly 1,000 people were killed or injured by these barbaric weapons in 2015[2]. As part of its response, Handicap International provides support to rehabilitation services in three health centres in Sana’a. More than 3,000 people received aid from the organisation between March and September 2016, most of them casualties of the conflict.

A patient is treated by Handicap International’s team in a hospital in Sana’a.

A patient is treated by Handicap International’s team in a hospital in Sana’a. | © Handicap International

Conflict casualties account for between 25% and 50% of our patients,” explains Joanna Reid, Handicap International‘s programme coordinator in Yemen. “The situation can change a lot from one week to the next. On days of heavy fighting, casualties arrive in large numbers with injuries varying from spinal injuries to open fractures to peripheral nerve damage, and some require amputation. We’ve supplied aid to 195 amputees since March.”

The organisation provides rehabilitation care in a centre specialised in this field, and in the rehabilitation departments of two hospitals. Since these services are rare outside major cities, Yemenites travel across the country to be treated, often at risk to their lives. On average, 260 people a month benefit from Handicap International’s assistance.“

“Demand for rehabilitation services, already in short supply in Yemen, has increased while supply has decreased,” says Joanna Reid. The organisation therefore also trains medical staff and helps them case-manage patients. It provides victims with equipment – such as wheelchairs and crutches – and supplies medical staff with consultation tables and the like.

It pays particular attention to “carers”, usually members of the patient’s family, who take care of the person with reduced mobility. “We teach them how to move the patient from a bed to a wheelchair, how to use crutches properly, to do exercises, how to stretch and train muscles, and so on. This is all new to families of conflict casualties and they need to learn how to cope.”

Traumas of war

Handicap International’s psychosocial support teams see countless cases of stress, depression and shock. Being injured in an explosion or exchange of fire is extremely traumatic and leaves invisible scars. “After the shock of the explosion or injury, and perhaps the loss of an arm or a leg, some patients feel totally lost,” says Joanna.Their home has been attacked. They are in physical pain. They have lost one or both parents and they are scared.”

Handicap International organises one-to-one and group discussion sessions to help people get through these trials. Helping people talk about their trauma and day-to-day problems, and creating links between people who have been through similar experiences, enables people to rebuild their lives.

Long-term pollution

Heavy bombing in Yemen leaves behind unexploded remnants of war. These weapons are still live and dangerous. The use of anti-personnel mines and improvised explosive devices acting as mines has also increased. Yemen will be contaminated for many years. Whole areas are uninhabitable, preventing the return of social and economic life, and displacing people from their homes. These explosive remnants, mines and improvised devices pose a threat to civilians, sometimes for decades after a conflict has ended.

 

[1]Anti-personnel mines and improvised explosive devices acting like mines have been banned under the Ottawa Treaty since 1999.

[2] According to the Landmine Monitor 2016 report published on 22 November. The Landmine Monitor publishes an annual report on the application of the Mine Ban Convention.

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