Monday, September 07, 2009

Yemen: Deteriorating conditions for thousands in north Yemen

A UNICEF aid convey in Yemen. Unsafe roads are complicating the process of delivering aid to uprooted civilians

Conditions for thousands of displaced families in northern Yemen continue to deteriorate as a 4 September truce between government troops and Shia rebels to allow relief items in lasted only four hours.

The government decided to suspend its military offensive against Houthi-led rebels in response to calls by international and local humanitarian organizations so that they could reach affected citizens, according to Yemen’s defence ministry.

Aid agencies said they would distribute more food and essential relief items to uprooted civilians in Saada and neighbouring provinces on condition that both warring parties remained committed to the government-announced truce.

“The decision to halt its military campaign was a welcome move since it would facilitate our role in reaching displaced families and delivering food rations to them,” Maria Santamarina, World Food Program (WFP) advocacy officer, told IRIN.

Mohammed Abdussalam, spokesman for the office of rebel leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi, said the government’s decision was a positive step “however, the government should have rather announced an end to the war. We are more committed to peace than the government… we consider the suffering of IDPs [internally displaced persons] in camps who lack the basic necessities to survive.”

Truce broken

While both sides of the conflict appeared to be committed to the truce, it did not last long.

The government’s Supreme Security Committee (SSC), comprising senior members of the defence and interior ministries and chaired by President Saleh, said that dozens of soldiers and Houthi gunmen were killed in clashes initiated by the rebels on the evening of 4 September, just four hours after the truce began.

Abdussalam admitted that their fighters in Harf Sufyan district in Amran province had not heard about the truce decision, and said that the SSC was too hasty in accusing Houthi followers of breaking the truce.

WFP implementing partner Islamic Relief had been seeking safe corridors to distribute some 935 metric tonnes of WFP food stock, pre-positioned in Saada city, to IDPs scattered there in camps and with host families, according to Santamarina.

“WFP is stockpiling commodities in Saada and is preparing to dispatch additional food supplies, pending secure conditions,” she said, adding that more food trucks were ready to be dispatched from the capital Sanaa to Amran Province as soon as IDP registration lists were verified. “However, we were shocked to hear that the truce was broken.”

Saada inaccessible

People trapped by intermittent clashes in Saada city – including 35,000 IDPs – are the most in need, Andrej Mahecic, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told the media.

Journalists have not been able to get accurate information on what is happening in the volatile city due to government-imposed media restrictions, including the disruption of mobile and Internet networks and blocking of roads leading to the city, Mahecic said.

Since 12 August, Saada residents have had no water or electricity. “Food reserves are running low and the situation is becoming untenable for families, many of whom are hosting friends, relatives or neighbours displaced by the street battles,” the UNHCR spokesperson said.

According to UN agencies, high temperatures during the day and heavy rains at night have compounded the problems faced by civilians in Saada, many of whom are fasting during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

UN agencies estimate that 150,000 people have been displaced by the northern conflict since 2004, including those forced from their homes by the latest round of clashes.

Disclaimer:This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
Photo: Copyright IRIN

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