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UN Launches Flash Appeal for Yemen

By Lisa Schlein
02 September 2009

The United Nations is appealing for $23.5 million to provide emergency assistance until the end of the year to 150,000 people displaced by recent fighting between government forces and armed groups.

Fighting between the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels, who are believed to be allied with al-Qaida, has been going on for several years. But, recently it has intensified. Since July, the United Nations estimates 55,000 people have fled their homes. Another 95,000 are displaced by previous bouts of fighting.

U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes says the main areas of need are food, shelter, water and sanitation, hygiene, protection and education, nutrition and health.

He says the biggest problem facing aid agencies is lack of access to Saada City and other areas where fighting is taking place.

"That is why we called for humanitarian corridors to be established to enable those who are trapped by the fighting to escape and to enable humanitarian assistance to get in there," said Holmes. "We have not yet got agreement from all concerned to that. The government has no problem with that, but we are having some difficulty in establishing direct contact with the rebel groups and ascertain what their view of this is. In the moment, I think they have been refusing a cease fire or the kind of dialogue which the government has been offering."

Holmes says the current crisis is unfolding in an area that is already subject to great difficulty. He says people in northern Yemen are suffering from poverty, underdevelopment and food insecurity.

He says malnutrition rates are high, particularly among children. He says there have been recent outbreaks of measles and diarrheal diseases in the affected areas. He says the few U.N. teams that have managed to reach these areas tell alarming stories about the condition of the people.

"Some people have managed to escape, which is why we have these camps in areas outside the places of immediate fighting," he said. "But, there are other people who have not been able to get out because the roads are closed or the roads are blocked by the fighting. The government have been trying to clear them, but they have not succeeded. Certainly the government claim, at least I have no independent information to confirm this that many people are in effect being used as human shields by the rebels and have been kidnapped by them in attacks on the camps and elsewhere."

Holmes says food and other stocks of relief items are running low and soon will be gone, if they are not replenished.

On a brighter note, the World Health Organization says it has succeeded in getting the first shipment of humanitarian supplies into Saada city since the current conflict erupted. The World Health Organization says the delivery contains essential medicines to treat 30,000 people for one month.

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