Aden, yet another martyred city

South Yemeni capital pays high price for Yemeni civil war · Half of city's population now displaced · Epidemic of dengue claims some 600 lives · Hospitals face shortage of medicines · Pro-independence militias fight alongside Hadi loyalists against Houthi-Saleh alliance

Today's missile attack against a kindergarten, which has claimed the lives of 12 people sheltering there, is the last one among many other calamities that once lively city and busy port Aden is suffering. Its streets have become the stage for intense infight between forces loyal to Yemeni president Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi and an alliance made up by the Shi'ite Islamist Houthi movement and forces loyal to former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

As fighting continues and dozens are being killed every week in Aden, those remaining in the city still need to face another enemy. Epidemics have been appearing in recent weeks. Just seven days ago, 8,000 cases of dengue were reported in Aden, with the result of 590 people dead. Medical care is now inadequate in Aden's hospitals because of lack of medicines and shortage of fuel needed to run generators. Even so, some people choose to stay in the hospital because their homes have been destroyed.

Half of Aden's former 800,000 inhabitants are now displaced, "seeking shelter in any available space in the town," the International Committee of the Red Cross reports. There is very little food, and what is available is very expensive. Thus many people are now surviving thanks to their traditional support networks or humanitarian aid arriving to the city -far less than needed.

Not comfortably fitted into Yemen

Aden is the capital city of South Yemen. Formerly a British protectorate, a socialist state existed from 1967 to 1990 in the South Yemeni territory, encompassing the entire south and east of current Yemen. In 1994, four years after having merged with North Yemen, South Yemen again declared independence. The Yemeni army reacted by staging a brief war against the secessionists, at the end of which South Yemen was reannexed.

Since 2007, the Southern Movement, also known as Al-Hirak, has been demanding -more and more vocally- the restoration of independence. But Al-Hirak's leadership is a very divided one, and this has hampered efforts to articulate a viable and workable way towards secession.

At the outbreak of the current phase of the Yemeni civil war, some Al-Hirak members decided to arm themselves and form militias in support of president Hadi. Independence claims have suddenly been relegated to a second place, at least for the moment: the priority is now to prevent South Yemen from falling into the hands of the Houthi-Saleh alliance, the Houthis hailing from Yemen's extreme north and Saleh being the man who ruled the destinies of unified Yemen from 1990 until 2012, who crushed the 1994 secessionist revolt, and whom secessionists identify as one of the senior leaders having plundered South Yemen's wealth for years.

Since March, the war has claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people across the country. Of a total population of some 24 million, 21 are in need for humanitarian aid.

(Image: Aden's old town before the war / photo by Jialiang Gao.)

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