YEMEN: Thousands flee as fighting escalates in north
SANAA, 20 August 2009 (IRIN) - Some 10,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in the northern governorate of Saada over the past two days as fighting between government troops and rebels continues to escalate, according to Sheikh Saleh Habra, a tribal leader from Saada.
“Clashes have shifted to areas near some IDP [internally displaced persons] camps in Saada city, compounding the plight of women and children,” Habra told IRIN. “Relief items delivered by international and local aid agencies are reaching less than 10 percent of IDPs.”
Habra, who has represented the Houthi-led Shia rebels at many peace negotiations since clashes began in 2004, said the government had failed to set up more camps for the increasing number of displaced families.
The latest UN estimates put the total number of war-displaced at between 125,000 and 150,000, according to Nasim Ur-Rehman, chief communications and information officer at the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Yemen.
He told IRIN the situation was fluid as families were fleeing in search of security and taking refuge at the first available safe place, be it with their relatives, charitable individuals or in any other secure place along their way.
Food and water remain priority needs for IDPs. “We have enough food in Saada for 100,000 people for one month,” the Yemen Times quoted World Food Programme (WFP) country director Gian Carlo Cirri as saying on 19 August. He said aid workers were doing their best to operate under very difficult conditions.
The UN country team agreed on 18 August to increase its planning figure from 100,000 to 150,000 war-affected persons and is waiting for the green light from the government to start the distribution of food.
Help for IDPs in Hajja Governorate
According to Sami Saeed, water and sanitation officer at UNICEF, on 19 August around 1,000 families fled to Haradh District in the neighbouring governorate of Hajja, 300km northwest of the capital, Sanaa. He said the government was to set up a new camp in Haradh on 20 August to shelter those displaced families.
On 20 August, UNICEF dispatched three truckloads of essential supplies for 550 displaced families, mostly women and children, in Hajja. WFP and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) have also delivered food and essential non-food items to the region.
“The emergency relief items we are sending to IDPs include blankets, hygiene kits, kitchen sets, baby diapers, water filters, jerry cans and other things,” Aboudou Karimou Adjibade, country representative for UNICEF in Yemen, told IRIN.
Adjibade said there were serious access issues in contested areas but “we have managed to get special clearance from the government to ensure that humanitarian assistance is delivered in 48 hours to the fresh wave of displaced families.”
The “sixth war” between the army and Houthi-led rebels broke out on 12 August, and so far hundreds of civilians, mostly women and children, have been killed in army air strikes, according to Habra. Local sources said, on condition of anonymity, that hundreds of soldiers had also been killed or injured in the recent clashes.
However, these figures could not be confirmed as the government has enforced a media blackout in the region, banning journalists from access.
Copyright © IRIN 2009
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.
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