Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Yemen: Challenges facing IDP camp

IDPs lining up to get food aid in the al-Mazraq camp

Poor security, lack of basic infrastructure, the increasing numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and how to accommodate livestock are among the challenges facing the government and aid agencies trying to run IDP camps in northern Yemen, according to Nasim Ur-Rehman, a spokesman for the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).

"We face increasing numbers of people arriving… From the end of Ramadan [20 September] until now, the al-Mazraq camp [in Harad District, Hajjah Governorate] population has doubled," Andrew Knight, an external relations officer at the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Yemen, told IRIN.

On average, 10-15 new families arrive at al-Mazraq camp every day, UNHCR spokesperson in Geneva Andrej Mahecic said on 20 October, adding that they estimated the camp hosted some 8,000 IDPs.

Knight said another challenge was how to deal with livestock being brought to the camp. "Following a meeting… UNHCR set about redesigning the layout and organization of the camp to accommodate these needs.”

“We are working with UNICEF, FAO [UN Food and Agriculture Organization], the local authorities and other partners to assess the extent to which the livestock may present a health issue,” Knight said.

According to Knight, the livestock graze locally, and IDPs themselves buy some fodder in; UNICEF helps with watering the animals, which do not cause any damage to IDP tents.


"Obtaining access to IDP camps, particularly those in Saada Governorate, remains a tough challenge," said Rabab al-Rifai, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

"Even worse, thousands of civilians remain unable to flee and are stranded in areas where fighting continues."

ICRC and the Yemeni Red Crescent are running all three camps in Saada Governorate, which are hosting more than 6,500 IDPs, according to al-Rifai. "We have regular bilateral and confidential contacts with the parties to the conflict and have reminded them on several occasions of the need to take every possible measure to ensure that safe access of humanitarian aid is facilitated,” she said.

Identification of IDPs

Laure Chedrawi, a spokeswoman for UNHCR, said another challenge was distinguishing the genuinely displaced from local people seeking help: "Some IDPs arrive in al-Mazraq camp without documentation and people from the surrounding areas who haven't been displaced by the fighting also come to the camp to try to seek food and other essential relief supplies."

A new procedure has now been introduced at the camp whereby two non-related witnesses must testify that the person seeking assistance has indeed been displaced by the fighting; aid agencies were also cooperating with the Saada local authorities to establish identities, Chedrawi said.

“We also coordinate with NGOs and other aid agencies on the ground to avoid duplication of humanitarian assistance," she told IRIN, adding that training courses on camp coordination and management had been held.

UNHCR field staff have registered 36,216 IDPs in three governorates (Saada, Hajjah and Amran), while the total number of uprooted civilians since June 2004 is estimated at 150,000, including those living with host families or those still inaccessible.

New camps

The increasing number of IDPs has forced the government to think about establishing new camps, especially as some families holed up in schools in Amran and Hajjah governorates may be forced to leave them as the new school year begins.

However, the development of a second site close to al-Mazraq camp has been suspended at the request of the government, according to UNHCR’s Mahecic.

“Despite completion of the mapping and the site planning for the second camp, local authorities have now indicated that they want al-Mazrak II to be situated in a different location, closer to the first camp. We are worried that the delay in reaching a final decision on the second camp is having an impact on the improvement of the first camp which is becoming increasingly overcrowded with needs for health, water and sanitation increasing,” Mahecic said.

According to the most recent situation report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), four camps - al-Mazraq, Sam, al-Ihsa and al-Talh camps - host 13,700 IDPs. UN agencies have registered 42,740 IDPs in all, most of whom are not in camps.

The current IDP crisis has been prompted by fierce clashes between Houthi-led rebels and government forces over the past two months.

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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