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The consequences of war are evident at a prosthetic center in Yemen


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm A Martínez.


And I'm Michel Martin. After nearly a decade, the civil war in Yemen is finally slowing down, but people will be living with the consequences for years to come. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the need for prosthetics for thousands of people injured by land mines and unexploded ordnance. NPR's Fatma Tanis went to our prosthetics clinic in Yemen, where she spoke with some of the youngest and most visible victims of the conflict.

FATMA TANIS, BYLINE: The waiting room is crammed at this prosthetic center, one of two in the city of Taiz. Soldiers, women and children with amputations squeeze by to get to their appointments. Twelve-year-old Shaimaa Ali Ahmed is here with her father for her monthly physical therapy. It's so crowded that her doctor, Muna Hasan, struggles to find a comfortable place for them to start.

MUNA HASAN: We need to find a comfortable place. We can go there.

TANIS: Finally, they find an empty set of parallel bars in a corner.

HASAN: We have to start from parallel bar.

TANIS: Shaimaa walks swiftly up and down, first holding on to the bars, then without touching them.

HASAN: (Speaking Arabic).

TANIS: Her gait is quite uneven because prosthetics with joints at the knee aren't available here. She tells me about the night she lost her leg in 2017 when she was just 6 years old. She was playing outside with friends at night when they came across an unexploded rocket.

SHAIMAA ALI AHMED: (Through interpreter) Suddenly, I saw something flash. At that time, I didn't even know what an explosion was. Then I found myself at the hospital the next day with my mom, and she told me that my leg was gone from my upper thigh.

TANIS: Shaimaa says she has worked hard to get better even as the war raged in this frontline city.

ALI AHMED: (Through interpreter) I still feel scared when I am outdoors but try to be calm. It's better now. We used to constantly hear the sounds of missiles or gunfire. Now it's rare.

TANIS: She hopes that the international community can help bring the war to an end so that she can be a women's rights lawyer and work to rebuild her country that sank into civil war in 2014. That was when the Iran-backed Houthi militia overthrew the government, backed by Saudi Arabia, and sparked the civil war. Houthi rockets and Saudi airstrikes have killed many Yemenis, and experts say there are about 2 million land mines, mostly laid by the Houthis, along with unexploded ordnance, especially here in Taiz.

MARIAM ADNAN: The fact that the war is slowing down does not really say that the needs are slowing down as well.

TANIS: That's Mariam Adnan, a child protection specialist with Save the Children. I reached her from her base in Sana'a, the capital of Yemen that is now under Houthi control. She says children are particularly vulnerable as they play outside and walk to school. Even as there was a truce for much of last year, children were killed or injured by mines on average every two days. That's the highest rate in five years.

ADNAN: We were expecting during the truce that the numbers will decrease. But for children injured by land mines, the numbers were increasing massively, unfortunately, during 2022.

TANIS: And with a collapsed health system and a severe shortage in humanitarian aid funding, according to the United Nations, it's gotten much harder to provide the lifesaving help that victims need. Adnan says children are often dying because they can't get help, and it's devastating for aid workers like her.

ADNAN: Sometimes we feel we are paralyzed because we cannot provide the support, and it's not on us. It is because of lack of funding.

TANIS: Back at the prosthetics center, the director, Dr. Mansour Alwazi'iy, gives me a tour of the workshop where they mold the bulky prosthetics for their patients.

This is where you make the prosthetics.

MANSOUR ALWAZI'IY: Yeah. Last year, I think we treated more than 400 case.

TANIS: That's 400 new cases. Then there are thousands of victims from earlier in the war who continue to need fittings, replacements and therapy.

ALWAZI'IY: It's not like operation - you will do it and send patient away. The patient has to come every three months, every four months, the children every six months, every one year. It's very important and sensitive in this time.

TANIS: As we step out of the workshop, back into the treatment center, there are more patients streaming in. Among them is a mother with her 3-year-old son who lost his leg in a mine explosion this year and now wears a prosthetic leg. His eyes downcast, the child slowly tries to walk, clutching tightly to his mother's hand.

Fatma Tanis, NPR News, Taiz, Yemen. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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