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Humanitarian agencies step up aid in Sa'ada (Front).

SANA'A, Aug. 19 -- Amid spreading violence in the northern governorate of Sa'ada that has forced thousands to flee their homes -some reportedly paying to be smuggled out, humanitarian agencies are providing aid to areas where access is granted.

International and local non-governmental organizations are stepping up efforts to assist new internally displaced persons (IDPs), after the official beginning of the sixth war between the government and followers of Abdulmalik Al-Houthi last week.

"We have enough food in Sa'ada for 100,000 people for one month," said Gian Carlo Cirri, World Food Program country director in Yemen, stressing that aid workers are doing their best to operate under the current condition. "We are discussing with local authorities how to distribute the very much needed aid."

The United Nations (UN) country team agreed on Tuesday to increase the planning figure from 100,000 to 150,000 war-affected persons, and is waiting for the green light from the government to start distribution.

This new humanitarian crisis comes as the UN marks its first World Humanitarian Day on Aug. 19, to increase public awareness about humanitarian assistance worldwide, and honor aid workers who gave their lives in assistance to others.

"We are driven by the humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality and do no harm," said Naseem Ur-Rahman from the UN's Children's Fund (UNICEF), stressing that humanitarian aid is not a partisan or political act and should not be viewed as such.

In the Sa'ada governorate, the fighting has spread to at least nine of 14 districts and the frontline is nearing the main town every day, noted a recent UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) report.

The military is reinforcing its presence and some have suggested that this is due to the government's desire to reopen the road in order to transport commodities and items into the governorate, it said.

A special committee headed by Minister of Public Health and Population was formed after the weekly cabinet meeting on Tuesday to address the situation in Sa'ada, according to the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation.

A team including representatives from the ministries of social affairs, defense, human rights, the Yemeni Red Crescent Society (YRCS) and the UN was to visit Sa'ada on Wednesday afternoon to assess the situation, said a spokesperson at the Ministry of Public Health and Population.

Whatever the government has, such as medicine and emergency kits, it will make available to people in the areas of conflict, notably through development partners, said Deputy Minister of Health Planning and Development Dr. Jamal Thabet Nasher.

The governor of Sa'ada has declared a state of emergency in Sa'ada town, and announced that some 120,000 people have been displaced.

Checkpoints are restricting movement, according to the UNHCR. There is a severe fuel shortage, and electricity is now entirely cut off. Mobile phones are down, but internet and landlines are working.

Fighting displaces thousands

According to reports received by the UNHCR, there could be as many as 35,000 persons newly displaced in and around Sa'ada town. As the conflict approaches the main city, the agency has received reports that families are fleeing the main town.

"Smuggling of persons has also begun, and people are paying YR 5,000 (USD 25) per person to be smuggled out from the main town, at great risk," noted the UNHCR report.

A large number of people are fleeing the conflict and spilling over into the neighboring governorates of Amran, Hajja and Al-Jawf. In Sana'a, the UNHCR has been contacted by displaced families asking for food and shelter.

"Some of these displaced families - from the most war-affected districts, such as Al Salem, Saqain, Ghamr, Haidan, Shada, Malahidh, Majaz and Qataber - are now living with host families and others in camps or outdoors," the Houthi spokesperson told IRIN on Sunday.

Families from Malahidh in southwest Sa'ada have fled, and many have moved south towards Haradh in neighboring Hajja while others have moved west along the Saudi border, noted the UNHCR. Saudi Arabia is taking measures to prevent the influx of refugees.

A UN assessment team in Hajja last week noted IDPs scattered along the roads between Haradh and Malahidh. A rapid field assessment of 54 IDP families found that the lacked shelter, clean water and sanitation. Malnutrition and skin rashes were found among the children and diarrhea was highly prevalent among the IDPs.

A UN assessment team is to visit to Al-Jawf on Thursday, according to the UNHCR.

Aid to displaced families

To address the lack of clean water, UNICEF-WFP-UNHCR was to distribute over 800 silver water filters, 1,000 jerry cans, 500 hygiene kits and 300,000 water purification tablets to 550 displaced families in Hajja on Wednesday, according to the UN.

Food distribution to families in Hajja governorate began last Saturday and more than 7,000 persons have already benefited from the immediate relief, said the WFP.

The UNICEF also mobilized its humanitarian relief efforts within 48 hours of the conflict breaking out, it said.

Since the escalation of the conflict this month, WFP is to cover 150,000 persons who have fled to neighboring governorates as well as to more remote areas within Sa'ada.

WFP has dispatched ready-to-eat high energy biscuits and dates to provide immediate relief to families in safer areas.

"On 16 August WFP airlifted an additional 40 metric tons of High Energy Biscuits from Dubai to Sana'a so as to be able to better meet the immediate needs of families affected by conflict," said the WFP.

"WFP coordinates with the UNHCR, UNICEF, and the World Health Organization as well as a number of local and international NGOs to ensure that families receive the assistance they require, whether that be food, shelter, medicine, sanitation, or psycho-social support - among other areas of intervention," it said.

Regarding food distribution, WFP and Islamic Relief are cooperating partners under the Sa'ada emergency operation, stressed the UN agency.

International NGOs and the UN are doing their best to respond to IDPs needs starting in Haradh in Hajja, Al-Jawf and Amran, said Khaled Al-Mulad, country director for the International NGO Forum on Tuesday.

"It is difficult with the current conflict to provide aid," he said.

"The UN country team is focusing on advocacy with the government on the issue of unimpeded access to stranded populations, putting in place a coordination mechanism with the local authorities, governorate office, security of staff and monitoring and supervision of operations," said Naseem Ur-Rahman from the UNICEF.

Conflict compounds food crisis

"Yemen is facing a very serious humanitarian crisis," added Ur-Rahman. "The irony is that multiple crisis have come together in a short span of time and quick succession such as recent floods in Hadramout and Al-Mahra, relentless refugee flow, internal strife in Sa'ada, a restive south, food, fuel and financial crisis--- it is like a gathering storm that needs a great effort in conjunction with development partners."

"All these challenges come at a time when the vulnerability of families to increased poverty and food insecure continues to be impacted by high food prices, and already critical levels of hunger and malnutrition levels are deteriorating," says WFP Yemen.

"WFP is entirely dependent on donor support, and therefore funding is almost always an issue," explained WFP Yemen. "When funding is limited, the agency often must reduce rations and beneficiaries to cope with shortfalls."

"If resourcing gaps are dramatic, sometimes entire projects are put on hold - such as the case of Food for Health and Food for Education projects in Yemen which have been on hold since June due to lack of funds," the UN agency explained.

"In July 2009, WFP was forced to reduce rations in half for beneficiaries under the Sa'ada Emergency Operation due to budget shortfalls."

"The reduced rations affected all beneficiaries, with the exception of those in the IDP camps who are the most vulnerable and depend entirely on WFP for their food consumption."

Humanitarian crises in Yemen

"World Humanitarian Day is particularly pertinent in Yemen, given the issues of access and the humanitarian challenges that the country faces," said Abdul Haq Amiri, head of the UN's Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) for the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia.

"Yemen is facing multiple humanitarian challenges, ranging from natural disasters such as drought, to conflict related issues such as the influx of refugees from Somalia," he said. "In addition, the financial crisis and a rise in food prices are placing further strain on people's coping mechanisms."

In October last year, rains wreaked havoc in the Yemeni governorates of Hadramout and Al-Mahara. Over 4,600 houses and another 2,000 huts in both Hadramout and Al-Mahara governorates were totally or substantially damaged, leading to as many as 25,000 internally displaced persons, according to the World Bank in Yemen.

WFP is currently providing life saving assistance to 52,000 refugees, assistance to 43,000 persons affected by those floods.

Humanitarian workers

The UN's first World Humanitarian Day this year is marked under the theme of humanitarian who give their lives while providing assistance to others.

The YRCS working closely with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) currently has 40 members of staff in Sa'ada, including 15 who have continued working despite being briefly held hostage by the Houthis last week.

"They are still working," said Dr Abbas Zabar, secretary-general of the YRCS.

Six years ago, on 19 August 2003, the United Nations Office in Iraq was bombed and 22 people lost their lives, among them Sergio Vieira de Mello, at that time the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Iraq.

"While there have been many other fatal incidents involving humanitarian personnel the General Assembly decided to use the anniversary of this incident as World Humanitarian Day," explains the UN's website.

In Yemen, exact figures are hard to come by.

Future operations

WFP is currently designing three new operations to begin in 2010 for Sa'ada, refugees, and to address the critical levels of food security and malnutrition in Yemen, according to WFP.

"Based on preliminary estimations, WFP's portfolio in Yemen will increase drastically in order to respond to the increasing challenges confronting the country," it added.

"To this end, WFP will definitely be in need of donor support in order to launch the operations."...

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Publication:Yemen Times (Sana'a, Yemen)
Date:Sep 27, 2009
Words:1723
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