Yemen: UN aid chief warns of critical situation for thousands of displaced

9 October 2009
Clashes between government troops and Al Houthi rebels in northern Yemen are putting the lives of IDPs at risk

The top United Nations humanitarian official today warned of the increasingly dire circumstances facing a growing number of people in northern Yemen forced from their homes by the ongoing conflict between the Government and the Al Houthi rebels.

Since fighting erupted between the two groups in 2004, an estimated 150,000 Yemenis have been uprooted and the number is swelling by the day, with the latest clashes spilling out of Sa’ada city into neighbouring areas.

The UN Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that around 200 people flood out of Sa’ada daily into surrounding areas, with some travelling by food through mountainous regions for four or five days.

On the second day of a four-day tour of northern Yemen, Under-Secretary-General John Holmes visited a makeshift camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Mazrak, where over 6,000 people are taking shelter, and some uprooted families have taken refuge on open land.

“I came to Mazrak camp and to this district today to see first-hand the circumstances that the displaced people are living in, so that I could better understand how the international community can assist,” said Mr. Holmes, who is also UN Emergency Relief Coordinator.

“This part of the country has been experiencing instability for some time now, and for some of these people this is the second or third time that they have been displaced,” he added.

The majority of IDPs are living amongst host communities or in open spaces in areas without clean water sources, and the most vulnerable have fled to camps with scant means of supporting themselves, making them largely dependent on humanitarian assistance for their survival.

“The people who have fled to the camps have few or no safety nets or coping mechanisms,” Mr. Holmes said. “Many came from conditions of great poverty, and have now lost the little that they had, so we need to help them with everything from shelter to food to clean water.”

He noted that the thousands of IDPs who have chosen to live out of the camps also need help. “There are still many we cannot reach as well as we would like, and our resources are finite.”

Aid agencies will not be able to cope with the increasing caseload without strengthened international support, OCHA said, stressing that their $23.7 million flash appeal to fund immediate, life-saving efforts has only received only 16 per cent of the amount requested since it was launched on 2 September.

Andrej Mahecic, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva today that the civilian population “continues to bear the brunt of the ongoing conflict.”

He noted that the agency’s own $5 million emergency appeal – to organize, manage and expand camps; provide protection for IDPs; and provide tents and other humanitarian assistance – is still $2.6 million short of its target.


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