In Taiz

Michelle Ghabrial

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Twelve-year-old Aqeed Abdel-Salam was lying unconscious in the emergency room of Thawra hospital in the besieged Yemeni city of Taiz. He had been shot in the head by a sniper. His parents said hecame under fire when he went to check on the doves on the roof early in the morning. Taiz in south-west Yemen is one of the cities hardest hit by ground-fighting and airstrikes. The outskirts andsurrounding hilltops are mostly in the hands of Houthi forces; the city centre was retaken by forces loyal to President Hadi in August.

The Unicef Yemen crisis situation reportpublished on 1 October says that 505 children have been killed and 702 injured in the country since 26 March. More than half a million are at risk of severe acute malnutrition and nearly 10 million – 80 per cent of the country's under-18 population – are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. According to data compiled by activists in Taiz, more than 200 children have been killedin the city and 600 injured. Many have had limbs amputated and at least 10,000 have been orphaned.

In addition to the indiscriminate shelling of residential areas, the Houthi siege has caused severe shortages of fuel, water, food and medical supplies. Rubbish is heaped up across the city. An outbreak of dengue fever infected more than 3000 children.

The only children's hospital in Taiz, the Swedish-Yemeni hospital, was occupied by Houthi snipers when they still had a foothold in the city. The walls when I was shown round had shell holes in them. I saw incubators piled up in one room, floors covered with empty bullet casings next to Barbie and Cinderella stickers, torn curtains, bloodstains and cigarette packets. The library floor was covered with books and broken glass. Boxes marked with the Unicef logo contained the files of hundreds of children being treated for malnutrition. Their doctor, Abdel-Qawi al-Makhlafi, told me that most of them had been displaced to rural areas. 'I am afraid many of them now might be facing death,' he said.

The cancer hospital, treating 5500 patients – 13 per cent of them children – has also shut down.

Schools have been turned into detention centres for Houthi fighters or military training camps. Parents keep their children at home anyway out of fear for their lives.

In the bed next to Abdel-Salam was Khaled, a seven-year-old with shrapnel in his neck. The doctors said he had a better chance of survival than Abdel-Salam did. In the corridor, 12-year-old Rashadand 11-year-old Abdel-Rahman Walid both had their abdomens bandaged, again for shrapnel wounds. 'We live in horror but we depend on God,' Walid's father said.


  • 18 October 2015 at 12:08pm
    mk8287 says:
    Hi Michelle,

    Great piece on what is a very underreported situation in Taiz. I wondered whether you would be free to chat at some point? I work for Save the Children and I would be interested in getting some more information on the situation in the Swedish-Yemeni hospital and in Taiz schools.

    my email is



  • 20 October 2015 at 4:14pm
    colm ryder says:
    Distinctly apolitical comment on the present horrific under-reported situation in Yemen! The author appears to blame Houthi forces, without directly saying so....but no mention of the incessant bombing by Saudi Arabia and its allies, such as the USA and Gulf States, which has caused untold hardship!

    This is a conflict that should have been resolved before it started, and has made one of the poorest countries in the world even poorer!