Communities in Hajjah count the cost of indiscriminate airstrikes

Abdullah Hadi, 39, returned to the water bottling facility outside his town around 3:00 a.m. to make the final checklist for the laborers working overnight, before ending his shift. Half an hour later, the chief coordinator and a dozen of his workers were killed by an airstrike. In the northwestern areas of Yemen, near the border with Saudi Arabia, scores of civilians have been killed while hiding in their homes, working at farms and factories, or while visiting popular markets, which are vital sources of income, food, and other necessities for most of the populace in the Tihamah coastal region and elsewhere in Yemen. Thousands of people in the northwest have also had to abandon their home towns, seeking safety elsewhere.

Haradh and Abs districts of Hajjah Governorate in particular have been continuously pounded since the first Saudi-orchestrated airstrikes on March 26. The coalition’s air campaign was originally billed as “quick and sharp,” aiming to roll back forces loyal to the Houthi movement and former president ‘Ali ‘Abdullah Saleh, and restore the exiled government in Riyadh to power.

To those ends, warplanes from Saudi Arabia and its allies started to bomb pro-Houthi military bases and weapon depots. Moreover, the Saudi-led coalition imposed a naval and land blockade with the aim of preventing arms shipment from reaching the Houthis.

But the Saudi-led coalition, which receives logistic support and materiel from the US and UK, has also targeted Yemen’s civilian infrastructure, taking a heavy toll on noncombatants, while blocking all commercial imports to Yemen and stalling much-needed humanitarian and medical shipments. According to the United Nations, at least 80% of the population needs some form of humanitarian assistance. Widespread power outages and fuel shortages have forced dozens of hospitals to shut down, while others have had to reduce their operation to the emergency units.

Despite the warnings of impending famine and the dire humanitarian situation across Yemen, the coalition has continued for six months now to bomb residential areas and ravage the country’s infrastructure. Targets of the airstrikes have included government buildings, health facilities, educational institutions, stadiums, seaports, heritage sites, IDP/refugee camps, factories, gas stations, and water storage and processing facilities.

During the past six days alone, at least 90 people have been killed in the capital, Sanʻa, as warplanes target densely-populated areas, including the UNESCO-listed Old City of Sanʻa, where an entire family of 10 members was buried under the rubble of their house this week. More than 70 people were reportedly killed on Sunday as coalition warplanes bombed a local market in Munnabih village of Saʻdah governorate, according to local health officials.

According to the international NGO Oxfam, at least 25,000 airstrikes have hit  Yemen since late March. The organization, one of the aid agencies in the country that has been affected by the aerial attacks, has also said that more than two thirds of the population lack access to clean water, which increases the risk of life-threatening diseases such as malaria, cholera, and diarrhea.

In rural areas of the Tihamah coastal plain, where tropical diseases are seasonally rampant, 41% of the local clean water supply systems—which Oxfam was supporting—have shut down.

In Abs district of Hajjah Governorate, some 30 km away from the town of Haradh—where Abdullah Hadi and most of the local water plant’s workers lived, the water tanks, the vocational training institute, the cultural center, and the central prison were among the public facilities hit by airstrikes, according to local residents .

“The Saudi warplanes appear to strike anything in here and in the neighboring areas as well,” Hafiz Makin, a 36-year-old resident, told the YPP. “A number of houses have even been targeted in particular.”

When the Saudi-led aerial campaign was launched in March, Hafiz was hopeful that the Houthis and their allies would soon be forced to withdraw from the areas they have occupied. “But after more than five months now, we have lost a lot of our loved ones, and virtually lost the life in our hometown,” he said.

Thousands of families in the district of Abs have been forced to leave their homes in search of safety elsewhere. Ali Yahya, a resident of Abs who works as a volunteer for aid agencies in the district, said that the situation in both Abs and Haradh is catastrophic amid daily airstrikes and artillery barrages.

“Most of the basic infrastructure in Abs and Haradh have been bombed; life has become difficult here,” said Yahya, noting that at least 17,000 local residents have been internally displaced. “There are two camps for IDPs in Bani Hassan area, some three kilometers from Abs”

According to several local residents, the water factory shelling was one of the most egregious examples of indiscriminate airstrikes they have seen since March 29, when the Saudi warplanes began to strike in and around Abs district, three days after the start of their aerial campaign in Sanʻa.

Al-Sham Factory, which used to produce large amounts of drinking water bottles, was totally destroyed by a predawn airstrike. “The entire factory was set on fire, engulfed in flames for several hours,” said the owner of the factory, Ali Rozoum.

“It is an overwhelming disaster to almost everyone in the area; thirteen local workers have just been killed all at once.”