Monday,23 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1283, (18 - 24 February 2016)
Monday,23 October, 2017
Issue 1283, (18 - 24 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Families torn apart in Yemen

For every death in this conflict-ravaged city, there is a family trying to stay together and pick up the pieces of shattered lives, reports Nasser Al-Sakkaf in Taiz

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Al-Ahram Weekly

It was midnight when the jet began circling above the Al-Mansoub family house in the city of Taiz in Yemen, the noise of its engines now familiar in this war-ruined city. But Adel Al-Mansoub had to be up early for work.

So while the mother and five children gathered in the hall, the strongest part of the house, Adel, the father, slept in his bedroom. Then the bombs fell. “After 10 minutes of the jet circling the city, an air strike targeted a house close to us, and part of our house was destroyed,” said Adel’s 17-year-old son Ahmed Al-Mansoub.

All of the Al-Mansoub home’s windows were blown in, and Ahmed could see their neighbour’s house on fire. “While I was busy thinking how to get out of the house, my eldest sister Shadha shouted, ‘Dad!’ I ran to my father’s room, and I found him almost dead,” said Ahmed.

The ceiling had collapsed on his father. Within 20 minutes, on that cold December night, he was dead. “All of us regretted letting my father sleep in the room and not waking him up,” Ahmed said, his eyes filled with tears.

With their father’s death and their home in ruins, the Al-Mansoubs became yet another family in Taiz forced to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. But with the city under siege by Houthi rebels and suffering nightly attacks by the Saudi-led coalition that is supporting Yemeni government forces, it is almost impossible to rebuild. Such a catastrophe can split and destroy family bonds, as the Al-Mansoubs discovered.

 “I now live at [my cousin] Ibrahim’s house. My two brothers live at my uncle’s house in Al-Hawban in Taiz, and my mother and three sisters left the city for our village in the Sharaab district to live at my aunt’s house,” Ahmed said.

He said that they had only been able to take some of their clothes from the house. Most of the furniture had been destroyed, and the rest of it was stolen the day after the air strike.

 “I used to live with my family in the same house, and my father would bring home fruit and sweets every night when he returned from his workshop. I long for my mother, brothers and sisters, but my fate is not in my hands. May God gather us together in the same house once again,” Ahmed said.

Ahmed, who now considers himself to be responsible for the whole family, plans to reopen his father’s workshop and rebuild their house or rent a house in Al-Hawban. Ibrahim said that his cousins were suffering from psychological trauma and cry during the night. “We are trying to sell the house of their father ... and we will buy a new house for them in the village,” he said. But that prospect is still distant.

Six local organisations in the Taiz Province reported last week that 1,251 civilians have died and 9,738 have been injured in the area since the start of the war in March 2015, including 208 women and 285 children killed and 1,129 women and 1,021 children injured.

Every one of these deaths has had dramatic consequences on those left behind. The international NGO Human Rights Watch said recently that Taiz’s population has dropped from about 600,000 before the conflict started to no more than 200,000 today.

Widad Taha, a woman in her 30s, used to be a stay-at-home mother while her husband, Murad Al-Mohayah, 39, was a bus driver. But everything in Taha’s life changed after a Houthi rocket hit their house in the Gabal Garaa area of Taiz in September.

Taha, who has four children, said, “The rocket attack injured my husband and after three days he died. It split the family.” Her two eldest daughters went to live in a village with their grandfather, while the son and the youngest daughter are still living with Taha at her sister’s house in the Al-Hawban area of Taiz.

The death of Murad left the family destitute and forced Taha to work to help her brother-in-law eke out a livelihood. “I didn’t work before, but nowadays I have been compelled to do so to help my brother-in-law. I make sweets and sell them in the market,” Taha said. She makes less than $5 a day.

Abdel-Kareem Shamsan, the head of the Humanitarian Relief Coalition in Taiz Province, said that the hardships Taha and the Al-Mansoubs face are not uncommon. The war has broken up hundreds of families in Taiz, and conditions worsen daily as the war rages on.

 “Most of the families were not poor before the war started. Many were relatively wealthy, but after the heads of their households were killed, the families have been dispersed,” Shamsan said.

According to Fadhl Al-Thobhani, a professor of sociology at Taiz University, many of the families have fled to rural areas, as there are houses still standing in the villages and work is easier to find. The locals “pull together” to help others out, he said, but added that the war was nevertheless fraying the social fabric that binds the province together.

 “Many people will be able to work again after the war, but the families that have lost the head of their household will have difficulty doing so, so the government will have to find funds to help them,” Thobhani said. He agreed with Shamsan that the locals need to come together to help those left destitute by the fighting.

Taha knows that the people of Taiz cannot go on under siege without help for much longer. “My dream in this life is to live with my children in the same house again. I have not lost hope, but I am calling on international organisations to help the victims of the war in Taiz,” Taha said.

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