War leaves Ye­men’s Aden shadow of its for­mer self

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - REGION -

ADEN, Ye­men: The mood is eerie on the mostly empty streets of Aden, Ye­men’s south­ern port city and des­ig­nated seat of govern­ment that has suf­fered three years of civil war.

Dam­aged build­ings are hol­lowed­out ver­sions of their for­mer selves, a tes­ta­ment to past lives and as­pi­ra­tions of in­hab­i­tants who now scrape by on aid hand­outs and the bare min­i­mum for sur­vival. Shot-up store­fronts and apart­ment blocks, car­casses of burnt-out ar­mored ve­hi­cles and signs mark­ing mine­fields now de­fine the cityscape along the sea.

Vi­o­lence, famine and disease have rav­ished the coun­try of 28 mil­lion, which was al­ready the Arab world’s poor­est be­fore the con­flict be­gan.

The con­flict pits a U.S.-backed, Arab-led coalition sup­port­ing the in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized govern­ment, which has nom­i­nally re­lo­cated to Aden but largely lives in ex­ile, against rebels known as Houthis.

Crum­bling, empty bill­boards line Aden’s rub­ble-strewn streets. An old Mercedes-Benz deal­er­ship, once a peg in a thriv­ing com­mer­cial cen­ter that sprang up un­der colo­nial rule, sits empty and pock­marked with bul­let holes. With the war still rag­ing, noth­ing is be­ing re­built.

Since the Arab-led coalition be­gan its bomb­ing cam­paign against the rebels in 2015, the U.N. es­ti­mates that some 10,000 civil­ians have been killed. Mil­lions need hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance and have been forced to flee their homes.

On the beach, old plea­sure venues also lie empty, bro­ken and de­serted. A shat­tered night­club and a va­cant chil­dren’s theme park are ghost­like re­minders of gen­er­a­tions past.

Even with a civil war in full swing, peo­ple seek some sim­ple recre­ations and acts of nor­mal life young men get hair­cuts and women visit sa­lons where a blow-dry costs 200 Ye­meni Riyals ($0.80).

Wed­ding bou­tiques are open till late at night, sales­men in­side chew­ing stim­u­lant qat leaves to pass the time. “Women come in and look at some dresses, but they are ex­pen­sive for peo­ple now, so it’s hard to sell,” said one clerk.

“I am en­gaged and want to get mar­ried but how can I in this sit­u­a­tion when I do not have a job?” said a nearby youth, who like most young men here has re­cently taken part in the fight­ing. –

The once thriv­ing com­mer­cial port city is now lit­tered with crum­bling build­ings.

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