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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

YEMEN: Concern over humanitarian situation as conflict resumes in Sa'ada

SANA, 10 April 2005 (IRIN) - Aid agencies are concerned about the humanitarian situation in the governorate of Sa’ada, 290 km northwest of the Yemeni capital Sana, following a resumption of fighting between government troops and supporters of the late Shi’ite dissident, Hussein Badr Eddin al-Houthi.

Fighting re-erupted on 28 March after a dispute between al-Houthi’s father and the Yemeni authorities. Details of the number killed and injured are yet to be confirmed.

The government accused Hussein al-Houthi, a former member of parliament in 1993 representing the al-Haq Islamic party, of fomenting sectarian strife in the country through his militant organisation. He denied such allegations and said that the conflict with the authorities was a result of his anti-US stance.

Nevertheless, he was seen by the government as causing instability in the country and was killed in a confrontation with Yemeni forces in autumn 2004.

In the latest fighting, people have started to leave villages in search of safe shelter from air raids and artillery, according to local leaders. "The al-Salam hospital is full of dead and wounded bodies from both sides [involved in the conflict]," a tribesman told IRIN on the phone while observing military helicopters hovering overhead.

He described the human situation there as "miserable, as poor people started leaving their houses to look for a safer place."

Following the first armed confrontation, that ended in September 2004, the UN was the first international organisation to assess the humanitarian situation in Sa’ada and to explore ways for aid agencies to help rehabilitate the most affected communities.

"We are in consultation with the Yemeni authorities to help relieve the situation there in Sa’ada. We are waiting to get a sense of the situation so we can act quickly," UN Resident Coordinator, Flavia Pansieri, told IRIN. Pansieri said assistance from the UN would depend on what conditions they would need to work under.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it was still assessing the situation, which observers said could worsen after a broker committee failed to convince rebel fighters to give up. "We at the ICRC are at this stage following closely and trying to get a clear vision about the situation. We have offered our services to the Yemeni authorities," Ronald Ofteringer, communications delegate at the ICRC in Sana, told IRIN.

There is concern among local and international humanitarian organisations that the fighting could hamper efforts and assessments made following the end of the first conflict.

"We helped after the first conflict ended by sending emergency kits which cost US $26,000. We sent drugs, emergency equipment and other things. After that, a nutritional assessment study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) was carried out. Unfortunately, it was not finalised before the eruption of the current fighting," Hashim el-Zain, Representative of the WHO in Yemen, told IRIN.

Regarding the humanitarian situation in Sa’ada, el-Zain said the WHO was ready to assist if requested. "We do not have information about the casualties, the displaced population or the humanitarian needs right now. We are ready to assist if we are asked to do so."

He pointed out that the WHO, like some other UN agencies, entered some areas in Sa’ada last October when asked by the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation.

Mohammed Sulan, operations manager at the Yemeni Red Crescent Society (YRCS) shared similar concerns. He said that some equipment due to be delivered to the area, such as water purifiers, could not be sent due to the ongoing fighting. He added that they were waiting for the "green light" from the government to be able to enter the area.

"The fighting is catastrophic and brings nothing but ruin. We are living through horrible months and miserable times. We are even unable to find clean drinking water in a place already short of water. Our children remain without good nutrition and milk," Thibyan Dhafer, a teacher in the area, told IRIN.

Local people said the ruggedness of the area had also exacerbated the humanitarian situation as it was difficult to deliver foodstuffs and led to a rise in prices. However, the authorities maintain the action against the supporters of al-Houthi was necessary to prevent further conflict in the area.

Themes: (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Governance, (IRIN) Human Rights

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