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YEMEN: Aid flows cut as fighting flares

SANAA, 3 September 2009 (IRIN) - "The sound of bullets can be heard almost everywhere around Saada city. We put our lives at risk just to go to the IDP [internally displaced persons] camps," said Saddam al-Abdeni, a supply officer at the Saada-based office of the NGO Islamic Relief.

Clashes which flared up on 12 August between the Yemeni army and Houthi-led Shia rebels are continuing to hinder relief efforts in the northern province of Saada and neighbouring provinces, aid workers have said.

"We can hardly move to respond to IDP needs for food, clean water and other essential items due to gunfire between the warring parties," al-Abdeni told IRIN.

Worse still, heavy army shelling in the area was also putting the lives of IDPs - including women, children and the elderly - at risk

Increasing insecurity in and around Saada Province has forced the World Food Programme (WFP) to reduce its aid to IDPs. In August, it distributed food to only 10,000 IDPs - down from 95,000 in July, due to limited access for its staff.

WFP has called for safe corridors so as to reach the bulk of the displaced who are scattered over a wide area.

Government blames rebels

The Yemeni Defence Ministry has accused rebels of using the civilian population and IDPs as "human shields". Khalid al-Yafai, an officer at the ministry, said: "We hold the rebels accountable for risking the lives of IDPs in camps as they resort to irresponsible and deceptive tactics to avoid direct confrontations with troops." He also alleged that the rebels were breaking into the camps to steal aid delivered by humanitarian agencies.

The rebels denied these allegations. "Our brave jihadists have plenty of food and other essential supplies in mountainous areas - enough for years. They never approach IDP camps... They defend themselves from strategic mountain-top positions," Mohammed Abdussalam, spokesman for the office of rebel leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi, told IRIN.

UN agencies estimate the total number of IDPs in the provinces of Saada, Amran, al-Jawf, and Hajjah at about 150,000. Some are in the five IDP camps each sheltering 500-1,000 families, according to Yassir Khairi, an Islamic Relief (IR) official, but most are with host families.

WFP still has 935 tons of food in Saada, enough to provide one month's rations to around 60,000 people, according to Maria Santamarina, a WFP advocacy official. "Our field staff will head to Hajjah and Amran provinces to help distribute food to fresh waves of IDPs, estimated at over 20,000 people [since 12 August]."

As fighting continues, at least 100,000 people are now on the move, desperately seeking sanctuary in safer areas of Saada or neighbouring provinces, Santamarina said.

Khairi said IR received food items from WFP which it distributed to IDP camps, but that it had been forced to stop work at the Anad camp, just outside Saada city, two weeks ago, after Houthi rebels occupied it. The camp was sheltering over 1,000 families at that time.


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.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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