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Yemen: a serious humanitarian crisis in the making

25-01-2010 Press Briefing

The ICRC is stepping up efforts to respond to a worsening humanitarian situation in northern Yemen. Just back from a trip to Yemen where he met with tribal leaders and government authorities, Dominik Stillhart, the ICRC's deputy director of operations, explained at a press conference in Geneva how these efforts are severely hampered by security concerns.


  ©ICRC/Boris Maver    
  Dominik Stillhart, ICRC deputy director of operations, during a recent trip to Amran governorate in northern Yemen    
    Mr Stillhart spent two days in Sana'a meeting with government authorities, the heads of UN agencies and the leadership of the Yemeni Red Crescent and a further two days in the northern governorate of Amran, where he met a good number of the tribal leaders of the region. He had planned to take a trip further north, clos er to the front lines and those civilians who are in greatest need of assistance, however this trip had to be cancelled at the last minute for security reasons.

Amran, situated south of Sa'ada, which is the governorate most heavily affected by the conflict in the north, is facing a serious influx of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Sa'ada, where most of the fighting is taking place.

 150,000 civilians directly affected by the fighting  

" What I've seen is a serious humanitarian crisis in the making, " declared Mr Stillhart. Since August 2009, when the conflict resumed, which, Mr Stillhart pointed out, was actually the sixth round of conflict between the government and the rebels, at least 150,000 civilians have been directly affected, or about one person in five living in the area.

" We are seriously concerned about the many communities that are believed to be trapped in areas that are not accessible to aid agencies, " he continued. This is the case in areas located north-east of Wadi Khaiwan, the place Mr Stillhart was unable to visit due to security concerns.

 Displacement putting huge strain on host families  

He emphasized that the majority of displaced people had found shelter with host families, primarily relatives, and that this is putting a growing strain on host communities that were already living on the edge before fighting broke out.

" Socio-economic indicators in Yemen are among the worst in the world, " he said. " A recent World Food Programme survey found that nearly half of the children under five are suffering from some sort of malnutrition. "

 Needs exceed humanitarian response  

From his assessment after his short visit, Mr Stillhart said that the needs of the people clearly exceed the capacity of the humanitarian response.

" This capacity is seriously hampered by ongoing security problems, " he continued. Due to the needs exceeding the humanitarian response, Mr Stillhart said that people are growing increasingly frustrated.

" One tribal leader that I met in Amran, for example, told me that'it is bad enough to be displaced by the conflict and to have to flee your home, but what is even worse is the fact that today I am no longer in a position to protect my people and to provide for their needs.'"

Mr Stillhart said that this particular leader feels that he is failing his own people and that this makes him very ashamed.

Mr Stillhart went on to summarize the ICRC's assistance to the conflict-affected populations, which includes supplying clean water, food, shelter and essential household items. (see box - Response to humanitarian needs)

" From what I could tell from my discussions with community leaders and some displaced people, food is what appears to be most urgently needed, " said Mr Stillhart.

 Security concerns severely hindering food distributions  

He described witnessing first-hand how challenging it is to organize food distributions to the affected communities. " In addition to the authorizations that you need from the authorities, the ICRC team needs to negotiate access with each and every single tribe along the way to the final destination of the distribution. "

Mr Stillhart explained that, as most communities are suffer ing, at least indirectly from the conflict, they naturally all feel entitled to some sort of assistance and this makes the whole aid effort extremely complicated to organize. It involves multiple negotiations that can last from early morning until late at night, just to gain authorization for one distribution of food.

He explained that if just one community or community leader goes away from the table unhappy, it can result in a security incident.

" Each and every security incident slows down aid operations considerably, because one then has to negotiate access on a daily basis, " Mr Stillhart added.

In closing, he mentioned that in the run-up to the conference on the situation in Yemen that will take place in London later this week, it is important to realize that the humanitarian situation in the north of Yemen is now worse than ever.

Mr Stillhart concluded with a strong pre-conference call to action.

" The renewed fighting that broke out in August 2009, and recently spread to the border of Saudi Arabia, has dramatically worsened the situation of an already beleaguered civilian population in northern Yemen. If no immediate action is taken to counter this trend, the north of Yemen could slide into a long-term humanitarian crisis that would hinder development efforts for a long time to come. "

  Response to humanitarian needs – ICRC / YRCS joint activities

  Since mid-August, the ICRC and Yemeni Red Crescent (YRCS) have so far provided approximately 75,000 displaced people in the governorates of Sa'ada and Amran with water, food and other essential items.

  Aid to the displaced  
  • The ICRC and YRCS manage five IDP camps accommodating more than 19,000 people – Al-Ehsa', Al-Jabbana, Sam and Al-Talh camps in and around Sa'ada city, and Mandaba camp in the district of Baqem, northwest of Sa'ada governorate (near the Saudi Arabian border);

  • ICRC-YRCS has assisted more than 150,000 persons since the renewed outbreak fighting in mid-August in Sa'ada and Amran governorates; among them are more than 75,000 IDPs (this number is still rising);
  • The urgent and ongoing humanitarian assistance provided includes supplying clean water, food, shelter, essential household items, and medical supplies to the YRCS and Ministry of Health facilities in Sa'ada, as well as two of the Ministry's facilities in Wadi Khaiwan, north of Amran.

  •   Medical aid
  • Supplies provided by the ICRC include basic medicines for treating common ailments, such as respiratory infections, bowel infections and diarrhoea, as well as antibiotics and paracetamol syrup for children;
  • In Sa'ada governorate, the ICRC supports YRCS health units in camps for displaced people, and a YRCS health-care centre in Sa'ada city, as well as another three YRCS health units in other parts of the governorate;
  • In Amran governorate, the ICRC supports one health-care centre in Amran city, two health-care centres in Wadi Khaiwan in the north of Amran governorate, to help deal with the daily influx of patients;
  • ICRC provided medical and surgical supplies to the Ministry of Health to help treat 150 weapon-wounded patients, in addition to other medical supplies.

  •   Water, food and shelter
  • 150,000 people have benefited from the ICRC's provision of clean water since the beginning of the conflict;
  • More than 60,000 displaced people and residents in Sa'ada and Amran governorates have been provided with clean water;
  • More than 70,000 displaced people in Sa'ada and Amran governorates have received food rations (wheat flour, beans, rice, sugar, salt and cooking oil);
  • Approximately 75,000 people in Sa'ada and Amran have received essential household items (blankets, mattresses, jerrycans, tarpaulins, washing soap and other items); in Sa'ada, some people received both household items and tents.