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Yemen: civilians increasingly at risk as conflict intensifies

25-09-2009 Feature

While fighting has been intensifying over the past days in most areas in Northern Yemen and civilian lives are increasingly at risk, thousands of people are dependant on humanitarian aid. In order to survive, people often have no other choice left than to flee towards safer areas. Families on the move are lacking even the bare necessities. Pregnant women, children and elderly are among the most vulnerable.

  ©ICRC/Salah-ud-Din /ye-e-00712    
15 September 2009. Bani Sureim. Distribution of essential non-food items by Yemeni Red Crescent volunteers (Amran branch) to approximately 500 displaced people.    
  ©ICRC / Salah-ud-Din/ye-e-00713    
Bani Sureim. Portrait of a displaced woman during the distribution.    
Bani Sureim. Displaced children lining up during the distribution.    
  ©ICRC/Salah-ud-Din /ye-e-00718    
18 September 2009. Khaiwan Medina. Yemeni Red Crescent volunteers distribute essential household items to approximately 1,700 displaced people.    
  ©ICRC / Salah-ud-Din / ye-e-00722    
Khaiwan Medina. Children surrounded by essential household items they received during the distribution.    
  ©ICRC/ Salah-ud-Din / ye-e-00720    
Khaiwan Medina. An elderly displaced man during the distribution.    

" We came all the way long from Harf Sufyan. Fear, hunger and exhaustion, this is how I can describe our journey, " says one Yemeni women, while receiving blankets, mattresses and cooking gas distributed by the Yemeni Red Crescent and the ICRC in Khaiwan on 18 September.


Most of the people who recently arrived in Wadi Khaiwan (4 hours by car north of Sana'a) and Bani Sureim (2 hours by car north of Sana'a), in the Amran province, fled fierce fighting in the district of Harf Sufyan, an area in Amran province bordering the province of Sa'ada. They now largely depend on aid provided by the ICRC and the YRCS. Over the past ten days, more than 2,000 people received essential household items.

Ahmad Hamood, 48, Farwa village, Ishar district.
"I am from Farwa, a town of over 700 families, located in one of the fertile areas of Sa'ada governorate. When the war started, before Ramadan, my family and I were confused and did not know in which direction to flee to save our lives. Fighting was raging all around us. Despite the danger, we left our village before sunrise on the 11th day of Ramadan. After walking all day, taking nothing with us but bare necessities, we arrived in Sa'ada town at 10 p.m. My family was exhausted after the long walk, and had no money. We spent the night under a big tree in the open. This is no small matter in a society where women are covered and usually live protected in their houses.

  I have five daughters and five sons under 13. Every day I go with my sons to the local market in search of work, but because of the war there is none. In the evening, we go to different mosques to collect the leftovers from the Iftar dinners that the locals offer for the poor. Only by doing so are we able to survive from one day to the next.

  My little daughters walk half a kilometre every day to fetch water from a well. The water is very salty and we have all had pain in our kidneys since arriving here. My wife is pregnant and in need of proper food and medicines, which I am unable to obtain for her. I am terribly worried about how we will cope when the baby is delivered."
    Meanwhile, more than 6,000 people in three camps for displaced persons in and around Sa'ada, Al Talh, Sam and Al Ihsa, continue to receive emergency aid from the ICRC and the YRCS. Displacement has become a common feature for almost all conflict-affected families in Yemen. Many have been displaced several times.

One tribal leader, who is in charge of a number of settlements in the district of Harf Sufyan, realized some days before the outbreak of the 6th war (12 August 2009), that the settlements of his tribe would be in the conflict zone. The elders decided to evacuate all into the mountains east of their settlements towards the province of al-Jauf. The families loaded their bare necessities on pick-ups, donkeys, cows etc. and started moving eastwards. One villager told the ICRC that the treck was so long, he could not see the beginning or the end.

It took them many hours to reach safe areas in the mountains, where they started to camp in the open under make-shift shelters from tarpolin. They stayed without proper shelter with a minimum of belongings in the open under heavy rain for six weeks. The circumstances were particularly harsh on the children and pregnant women.

When the fighting shifted into their area, they decided to move again. The sheikh was desperate and could not longer assume the responsibility of all. They split into smaller groups and he managed to get six families under the most difficult circumstances out of the area through al-Jauf province to the city of Reida in Amran province.

They arrived totally exhausted and stayed one day in Reida. The next day they continued to Sana'a. By that time, many had sold most of their belongings to pay for the transport to the capital and to rent some sort of a shelter. By the time the sheikh reached the ICRC-delegation in Sana'a, he was visibly exhausted and in need of help.

Reaching those in need remains extremely difficult. Fighting in many districts of Sa'ada and Amran provinces is ongoing with frontlines shifting. Due to the deterior ating economic situation, there is an increasing risk of attacks and lootings of trucks carrying relief. The delivery of aid often requires lengthy negotiations to obtain the necessary security guarantees.

Saba Muhammad, 13, Dahyan.
She is one of 10 children of the ailing Muhammad Salih, lives in Al Ihsa camp, which was set up by the ICRC and the Yemen Red Crescent in Sa'ada. Her father has not been able to properly provide for the family since he lost his eyesight. Her family arrived in Sa'ada town last year, when the Dahyan area was hit by the sixth round of the conflict, and settled in Al Salam camp for displaced people. After that camp was closed for security reasons, her family moved to Al Ihsa camp.

  ''Before we fled to Sa'ada, we were living a normal life in my hometown of Dahyan. I have seven sisters and two younger brothers. After fleeing Dahyan, we lost contact with two of my sisters, who are married. We have still not managed to find them, but we think about them constantly and yearn to see them again, safe and sound.

  Now there are 14 of us living in one tent in this camp. This is definitely not sufficient for us. My sisters and I are almost adults now and need a bit of privacy – something we cannot possibly have with everyone living, cooking and sleeping in the same tent. We are provided with food and water, but there are many other things we still need. Since my father is sick and my younger brothers are too young to work, it is very difficult to earn the basic income we need to survive.

  My father suffers among other things from high blood pressure, but we cannot afford to have him properly treated. The health unit in the camp offers treatment for simple diseases but cannot handle serious cases like my father's. Winter is approaching, and Sa'ada is well known for its cold weather, but we do not have warm clothes, blankets or proper heating.

  I am afraid that we will have to constantly move on and on. I just wonder if we will we be forced to live the lives of wanderers forever, because of the never-ending fighting. I just keep hoping for an end to our miseries.''