In mid-June, the Yemeni army successfully drove out the Al-Qaeda affiliated militant group Ansar Al-Sharia from three south Yemeni cities, which the group took control of last year. Since then, many of the locals, who fled the battles and sought refuge in the adjacent port city of Aden, have returned to their homes.
Many media reports focused on either the government offensive against the Islamist militants or the locals, which have been internally displaced due to the battles. The plight of the many inhabitants of Abyan, who remained in their homes during the fighting, has, however, often been neglected. In the following excerpt, Amira, the daughter of an Abyani family, shares the daily struggles faced by the people of her home village:
Afraid of losing their houses, many of the villagers from the areas surrounding the besieged cities stayed put during the fighting. But protecting their livelihoods came at a high price. Particularly during the hot summer months, life became unbearable. With little electricity and water, and the constant fear of an immanent drone strike, the locals are struggling for survival.
Since the fighting began, important infrastructure has been badly damaged and access to water is restricted. In the village of Derjaj the only source of water is an old colonial well next to the village’s mosque. It only holds unclean water however, and has caused severe diarrhea, particularly amongst children.
Efforts to repair the infrastructure have been futile, as military checkpoints in the area prevented electricians from entering the region. Due to the offensive the Yemeni military launched against Al-Qaeda, the people were stuck in their villages for more than two weeks. The two routes, which lead out of the province, were closed off, making any travel outside of the war-ridden territory difficult.
Bringing in food, medical supplies and water was therefore impossible. Due to these restrictions, the International Committee of the Red Cross was also forced to stop its supply of aid. For some people, the only source of aid was Ansar Al-Sharia.
The government on the other hand did not fulfill its duty to protect the Yemeni civilians. The newly elected president, Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi, who originates from the Abyan delta, was either not able or willing to protect the local people. Instead, the Yemeni military presence increases the daily hardship of the Abyanis. The reopened road from Aden to Abyan is mined, which has already caused deaths and injuries to scores.
The state officials, who are responsible for Abyan, are considered to be corrupt. Instead of distributing food supplies to the people affected most by the fighting in Abyan, the officials sold food supplies on the Adeni markets for personal profit. The Yemeni state seems to be as corrupt as it was before the protests in Yemen started in 2011.
While the Abyani population is affected by the US drones and the presence of the Yemeni military forces, they understand Ansar al-Sharia to be a root cause of the deteriorating situation. The locals knew that if the militants were not there, there would be no Yemeni military, no drones and no battles. Al-Qaida is a threat to people’s livelihood. They never wanted them to come or to stay.