Humanitarian crisis brewing in Yemen as aid funding runs out, UN expert says

12 April 2010

Hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Yemen could face “a grave humanitarian crisis” unless aid agencies receive an urgent injection of funds so they can continue their assistance, a United Nations human rights expert warned today.

Walter Kälin, the Secretary-General’s Representative on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, wrapped up a week-long visit to Yemen with a call for all sides to the conflict in the remote northwest to observe and implement a ceasefire so that civilians in the region can enjoy a measure of peace.

An estimated 250,000 Yemenis have been forced to flee their homes, particularly in and around the city of Sa’ada, because of fighting between Government forces and al-Houthi rebels. The majority are living with host communities or in scattered settlements outside formal camp sites.

Mr. Kälin said in a statement at the end of his visit, which concluded on Saturday, that the international humanitarian response over the past year and ongoing cooperation between the Yemeni Government and the UN had averted a disaster.

“These achievements are now threatened by a dramatic shortfall of funding,” he said, noting that some aid agencies have announced they will have to close their operations within the next few months without new funds.

“The consequences of such a withdrawal would be severe. IDPs by the very nature of their displacement, and in particular those who have suffered multiple displacements, have no more capacity to cope with their situation.

“A severe reduction of humanitarian assistance would not only cause a grave humanitarian crisis affecting their human rights to food, health and adequate shelter, but there is also a serious risk that it would trigger instability in a still very fragile peace situation.”

During his visit to Yemen, Mr. Kälin held talks with Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Mojawar, Foreign Minister Abubakr al-Qirbi and other senior Government officials, as well as with the local heads of UN agencies and other humanitarian organizations and with IDPs. He also visited the governorates of Hajjah and Amran, two of the areas hardest hit by the conflict.

He urged all sides to the conflict to abide by the conditions of a recent ceasefire, especially to ensure the safety of IDPs aiming to return to their homes and humanitarian workers trying to reach those in need.

But the Special Representative warned that “the majority of the displaced will not be able to return in the near future” because the region remains insecure, landmines and unexploded ordnances abound, and villages and towns lack homes and basic services as a result of the war’s destruction.

“The decision to return home must be truly voluntary,” he stressed after conducting field visit to IDP camps and informal settlements.

Mr. Kälin, who has served in his current post since 2004, acts in an independent and unpaid capacity and reports to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

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