SA’ADA, Jan. 11 – Over 1,200 children living in Damaj in North Yemen's Sa'ada Governorate continue to suffer the consequences of conflict between Houthis and Salafis. A Houthi blockade on the area – commenced on October 15, 2011 – has had severe economic and humanitarian consequences on the area's residents.
Five children were killed and 23 injured as a result of shelling by the Houthis in Damaj. A further four children have died as a result of dehydration, according to Soror Al-Wadee, a Salafi spokesman in Damaj.
Until now, children have not attended school, as two of the three schools in Damaj continue to be occupied by Houthis.
Damaj, home to the Sunni-Salafi minority, has a population of 15,000 people. Fierce clashes have taken place between majority Shiite-Houthis and the Sunni-Salafi minority, leaving dozens of people on both sides killed and hundreds injured.
The Houthis – who entered six rounds of war with the government between 2004 and 2010 – are militarily advanced and have possess tanks, mortar-shells, machine guns and artillery, according to a Yemeni team of human rights activists and media members who visited the area early December.
So far the ICRC has been the only organization to travel to Damaj, according to Rabab Al-Rifai, an ICRC communications officer.
“Local and international organizations were not able to provide humanitarian aid because of the siege.” Al-Rifai said.
“Farms were damaged after the Houthis have blocked the diesel and fuel access to the area,” a farmer in Damaj told the Yemen Times over the phone.
Despite a suspension of active conflict after a ceasefire was brokered by a local tribal mediation committee, what's left of the blockade continues to impede the transport of humanitarian aid to the community, said Al-Rifai.
She went on to explain how the ICRC had to ask for permission from the Houthis to enter Damaj one month ago in order to provide food and medications, including babies’ milk, which wasn't available in the local market. Permission was later granted to the ICRC to enter.
The conflict in Damaj, involving the use of heavy weapons, has caused severe damage, both to property and to lives.
“When we arrived, I saw children come out of houses with big smiles on their faces, like they were in a big prison,” said Mohammed Al-Ahmadi, a Yemeni journalist who visited the area last December.
Al-Wadee said that when the Ministry of Health sent needed medications three days ago, the Houthis took almost two-thirds of the aid for themselves.
Abd Al-Malik Al-Houthi, the Houthis' leader, in a telephone conversation with the Yemen Times, denied all charges leveled against by locals in Damaj.
“The road to Damaj is open and there are no obstacles for any organizations,” he said.
At least 94 children have been killed and 240 others wounded by gunshots or shelling in Yemen since civil unrest began in February 2011, according to UNICEF.