'Misery cannot be measured here': a struggle for survival in Yemen

Saada (Yemen) (AFP) –


At the end of a treacherous road winding its way between jagged ridges, dozens of families have turned a desolate mountainside into a safe haven of sorts from Yemen's years-long war.

The bedraggled community -- tucked inside a Huthi rebel stronghold close to the Saudi border in Saada province where battles have raged between the Huthis and pro-government forces -- fled their homes three years ago.

With their belongings strapped on the backs of donkeys, they kept moving further north under the threat of snipers and air strikes until they stopped hearing any fighting.

That was when they realised the mountainside of the Al-Azhour range would be their new home.

"They had to flee because of the war... and look for safe areas. They found it here, in this valley, in this place which is completely unsuitable for living," said Mattar Ahmed, an official in Saada's Razeh district.

"Circumstances have forced them to live in this place despite the harsh conditions. Misery cannot be measured here," he told AFP.

Yemen's conflict since 2014, pitting the Iran-backed Huthis against the government supported by a Saudi-led military coalition, has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed millions to the brink of famine.

The United Nations calls Yemen the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with over four million people displaced and two-thirds of its 30 million population dependent on aid.

- 'Living in the rocks' -

In Al-Azhour, more than 700 displaced people, many of them women and children, have been living in makeshift tents haphazardly clinging to the mountainside, amongst garbage and puddles of murky water.

With no health facilities nearby and limited access to clean water, they are vulnerable to disease.

Residents of the camp have to travel long distances on foot for basic necessities, with pregnant women and children the most at risk.

"We live between rocks. We don't have access to clean water," one resident told AFP as a 4x4 truck carrying three fighters strained to make its way up a steep and bumpy slope through the settlement, which is accessible only with the hardiest vehicles.

Razeh district was a battlefield between the Huthis and the government even before the current conflict erupted in the summer of 2014, when the rebels launched their military campaign by taking over the capital Sanaa.

With no sign of a peace deal, the 100 families on the mountainside are among countless Yemenis who have had to do their best to adapt, hoping to return to their homes one day.

In one corner, men sit in the shade of a large rock drinking coffee while children huddle together or walk along paths strewn with discarded portable toilets.

They all rely on aid.

Every few days, men and children carry boxes of supplies and water containers up to their tents.

But food is not their only concern.

"All the children here are not getting their right to an education, and most of them cannot read or write," lamented teacher Hadi Jaber.