In Yemen’s remote mountains, war – and progress – remain distant

In villages perched high on a mountain in western Yemen, residents are a safe distance from a conflict raging through most of the country, but they endure a hardscrabble existence little changed from hundreds of years ago.

By: Reuters | Jafariya | Published:September 12, 2016 6:26 pm
yemen, yemen eid, yemen news, eid, yemen progres, world news People browse items at the old market, ahead of the Eid Al-Adha festival, in the historic city of Sanaa, Yemen September 11, 2016. (Source: REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi)

In villages perched high on a mountain in western Yemen, residents are a safe distance from a conflict raging through most of the country, but they endure a hardscrabble existence little changed from hundreds of years ago. Long used to a livelihood without electricity or running water, they have felt little impact from the 18 months of civil war which have cut those essential services to many of Yemen’s 28 million people.

Dinner is still cooked as usual on an open fire, and dawn light heralds the start of work in the fields. But far from a country idyll, the sunny days in the crisp green hills are a medieval struggle for survival.

People in the Jafariya district of the western Raymah province haul basic goods uphill by foot, donkeyback and even a pulley-powered cable car soaring between peaks. Majid Abdullah al-Ayashi, 14, regularly plies this misty 1,200-metre span in the rusty metal box along with produce and other basic goods which he then carries further uphill to his village on the Dhalamlam mountain.

“It really hurts my back. I wish there was another solution to move the goods because the elevator isn’t safe and could lead to a fall,” the child lamented. Agriculture remains the mainstay of most villagers and the area is known for beekeeping and its distinctive honey is sold around the country. Mohammad Yahya Haidar, 65, takes the sweet with the bitter.

“Despite the difficulty of life, we’re still living here, just as our fathers and our ancestors did. We grow coffee and grain like they did, and we’ve grown accustomed to this life with all its cruelty and extreme hardship.”

Most of Yemen’s population lives in the countryside, a disparate patchwork of deserts, mountains and scrubland where even in peacetime the writ of the government and the benefit of its services barely runs.

That isolation has girded villagers well for the trials of rural life, and even the architecture is purpose-built for adversity. Traditional cisterns cut into the rock capture rainwater and many of the stone buildings in the area have withstood the elements for hundreds of years.

If calamity strikes, however, the villages’ remoteness can become a curse when residents need medical attention in faraway clinics. Pregnant women suffering complications and immobile patients are lucky to survive the eight-hour journey carried on men’s shoulders in makeshift stretchers.