ADEN -- Displaced residents have begun to return to Marib province's Harib district, in north Yemen, after pro-government forces regained control of the area -- which was under Houthi control for five months -- yet many challenges remain.
The UAE-trained Giants Brigades took control of Harib district on January 24, after expelling the Houthis, Information Minister Muammar al-Eryani said.
"For the five-month period during which the Houthis controlled the district, we lived in total darkness," Harib resident Hadi Mohsen told Al-Mashareq.
During this time there were no public services or water, he said, and shelves were empty of supplies.
When the government took control of the area again and the Houthis were pushed out, "services were restored, and so were electricity and water", Mohsen said.
"The joy the people of the district felt was indescribable," he said, but at the same time, district residents and returnees, as well as internally displaced persons (IDPs) residing in the area, are in need of urgent assistance.
Appeal for help
The Executive Unit for the Management of IDP Camps in Marib appealed to relief and humanitarian organisations to urgently provide emergency relief aid to more than 16,000 people in the south of Marib province.
In a statement, it said that "16,000 IDP families and residents in Harib district, who have suffered for five months from the cutoff of all services and lack means of sustenance, are in dire need of emergency relief".
Harib district residents and IDPs are in urgent need of relief and humanitarian aid, and service providers also are in need of substantive and technical assistance to enable them to resume their work, the unit said.
The unit and its field teams are ready to facilitate any assistance, it added.
Two main roads are open for the entry of humanitarian aid and food and relief supplies for the residents of Harib district: the Marib-Safer-Harib road and the Shabwa-Bayhan-Harib road, it said.
But the unit urged all area residents to follow the instructions given by the teams removing land mines, remnants of war and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), to avoid areas that have not been declared free of land mines.
"The unit is continuing to follow up with international organisations and donors, but the response is weak," unit head Najeeb al-Saadi told Al-Mashareq.
He stressed "the urgent and immediate need for medical assistance and resumption of operations at health care facilities, in addition to the rehabilitation of schools that were used by the Houthis as camps and weapons depots".
He also highlighted the importance of providing assistance, including urgent cash aid, to the most vulnerable groups.
As part of efforts to restore normal life to the district, the Marib local authority provided diesel to the power plant, and power was restored, al-Saadi said.
He noted the response of Saudi Arabia's King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre (KSRelief), which has distributed 500 food baskets, 200 tents and shelter aid, including items such as bedding and floor mats, in the district.
The governor of Marib has formed a committee to facilitate the restoration of services to Harib district, al-Saadi said.
The Public Electricity Corporation brought the Harib power plant back online after completing repair work on the grid and providing the plant with 90,000 litres of diesel, said Abdul Hadi al-Shabwani, director of the corporation's Marib branch.
Al-Shabwani serves on the committee to restore services to Harib.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health "is working to meet the requirements for restarting operations at hospitals and health centres" in areas newly restored to government control, said Deputy Health Minister Abdul Raqeeb al-Haidari.
IDPs who spoke with Al-Mashareq pointed to the lingering dangers that prevent many from returning, including land mines laid by the Houthis on the desert road.
"The news of the liberation of the centre of Harib district made my family very happy, but the road we took to return, the desert road, was littered with land mines," said Mohammed al-Khashal, who was displaced from the district with his family.
"What alarmed us was the explosion of some of those land mines under the feet of travellers and returning IDPs, and this caused us to anticipate death at any moment," he said.
"Our arrival in Harib was a miracle, but the difficult life we are facing after the displacement journey has dampened the joy of returning," he said.
"We now await the relief and food aid that is to be distributed to alleviate our suffering," al-Khashal added.
"Products have begun to flow into the city's markets after a period of scarcity," said Harib native Ahmed al-Najjar.
He called for the repair of water tanks and the rehabilitation of schools that the Houthis had used as military barracks, among them al-Thawra School in Harib, which the Houthis had turned into a command post and weapons depot.