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Yemen: civilians continue to face hardship

09-09-2009 Operational Update

More than three weeks of intense armed confrontations in northern Yemen have left the civilian population in parts of Sa'ada, Amran and Jawf in dire need of food, shelter and medical care. Access to the affected people remains difficult because of ongoing fighting.

©ICRC/M. Odam 
Khaywan, Al Hamra district, Amran governorate. A girl in the courtyard of the school where she and her family have taken refuge from the fighting. 

©ICRC/M. Odam 
Khaywan, Al Hamra district, Amran governorate. Children and their mothers in the courtyard of the school where they are staying after fleeing Harf Sufyan. 

©ICRC/M. Odam 
Khaywan, Al Hamra district, Amran governorate. A water point under renovation by the ICRC. 

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" It was a nightmare for my family to leave our home last week, " said Mariam, a 36-year-old woman who lost her husband because of the fighting. " I was carrying my four-year-old daughter, and my two sons, who are 10 and 11 years old, followed us in the heavy rain. We walked for nine hours. Now we depend on assistance from relatives and food rations from the ICRC to survive. " Mariam is but one of thousands of women who succeeded in fleeing the fighting only to be faced with the cruel reality of having to cope with the current situation and fend for their families.

Fleeing the fighting has become a recurrent feature of the lives of some civilians, who have had to deal with the danger of getting caught in the fire zone many times since 2004. " Five years of fighting have placed a considerable strain on people's lives, " said Martin Amacher, the acting head of the ICRC delegation in Yemen. " Civilians are now having to experience not only the direct impact of the fighting currently under way but also the cumulative harm, in terms of personal security and economic, physical and psychological well-being, of many years of fighting. "


While some civilians have managed to flee to Amran, Sa'ada or elsewhere, others remain in their homes in areas where fighting continues, at great risk to their lives. Thousands of people in need of help are stranded with no security and no means of escape.

Some areas were hard hit during the first two weeks of August by heavy rainfall, followed by flash floods and drastically falling temperatures. Many civilians who fled their homes had to struggle to reach safer areas, where they now face harsh living conditions. Some displaced people (IDPs) took shelter in school buildings. However, the new school year will begin at the end of September, and their presence on school premises will be problematic for students and teachers.

The estimated 20,000 people who made their way to Sa'ada to flee the fighting boosted the town's population by a third. The prices of basic commodities have soared – fuel, for example, now costs twice as much as it used to. The resident population has had to share already limited food, water and medical resources.

The ICRC and the Yemen Red Crescent Society continue to provide the displaced population in Amran and Sa'ada with food, clean water, medical care and other essentials. However, access remains difficult as the fighting continues. It is imperative that all parties involved in the fighting take all measures necessary to spare the lives and property of civilians. Respect for principles of international humanitarian law becomes more urgent by the day.

 Water and shelter  

Mohamed Rashid lives in al Talh, north of Sa'ada city. He and the families of his four sons live off his farm and a little herd of goats. " Since last year, we receive less than half the quantities of water that we need to grow vegetables, " he said. " Now, we can only plant half of our land and are barely able to get through the month. I am afraid that in a few months the problem will be worse. "

There was already a shortage of drinking water, and the conflict has made it more severe. There is no surface water at all, and few public wate r sources. With water availability of only 96 cubic metres per person per year, Yemen is one of the driest countries in the world. In northern Yemen, water infrastructure in rural areas is either non-existent or obsolete.

The limited water resources are now shared with the displaced population. " With 20 litres a day, we have to be very careful. The priority for us is to have water for drinking and cooking, " said Amina Abdulla, currently displaced in Al Mahather, south of Sa'ada. " We mainly depend on deliveries by Yemen Red Crescent water trucks. "


The displaced people are also in need of appropriate shelter. For those staying with relatives or in public buildings such as schools or health centres, the situation is not critical. However, those sheltering under tarpaulins or in tents in the open are suffering from harsh weather conditions. The rains and flash floods of recent weeks have added to their hardships. More rains and lower temperatures are expected shortly. If aid cannot reach the displaced people, it is not clear how they will be able to cope with winter.

  • In Sa'ada governorate, the ICRC and the Yemen Red Crescent continue to supply 21,700 displaced people in Al Ehsaa, Sam and Al Talh camps and in the regions of Baqim, Al Mahader and Al Azgool with 414,000 litres of water a day. In Amran governorate, more than 3,800 displaced people and 4,200 residents are receiving around 51,000 litres of water a day from the ICRC.

  • The ICRC is currently upgrading a water point serving both residents and displaced people in Al Hamra, Amr an governorate, and building latrines in Sa'ada governorate.

  • The ICRC and the Yemen Red Crescent recently distributed 479 tents to displaced families in Sa'ada governorate.

 Health care  

Obtaining urgent medical care is difficult. " There are thousands of displaced people – pregnant women, children and old people – who should have access to health care at all times, " said Miranda Odam, an ICRC health delegate working in Amran. " The Ministry of Health staff working in health centres in Amran are doing a great job. However, more resources are needed to meet the needs of both the resident and displaced populations. "

The lack of proper sanitary facilities such as latrines is another problem faced by most displaced people in the north of Yemen. If this issue is not addressed soon, the consequences for public health could be serious.

Because the fighting has disrupted the telecommunication system, it has become almost impossible to collect the accurate medical statistics needed to have a clear understanding of the main problems and to act accordingly.

  • The ICRC has provided support enabling Yemen Red Crescent medical staff to provide consultations, dressings and medicines for those in need among the 12,000 displaced people at five locations in and around Sa'ada city.

  • A health centre in Wadi Khaiwan, Amran governorate, was given basic medicines and a tent that will serve as a waiting room.

  • Since July, around 17,500 people in Sa'ada, Amran and Hajjah governorates have benefited from ICRC and Yemen Red Crescent medical care.

 Food and other essential items  

" Two weeks ago, my sister, her husband and their five children came to live in our house, " said Mohamed Saleh, who lives with his wife and two daughters in Sa'ada town. " Our house is not really big enough for so many people, so everyone sleeps in the same room except for the men, who sleep in the courtyard. Finding enough food is becoming a serious problem and our main diet now consists of rice and soup. " Mohamed and many others were lucky enough to receive food and other essential items from the ICRC and the Yemen Red Crescent. The resident population is bearing a heavy burden, as it has to share its already limited resources with the displaced families.

Prices of foodstuffs have soared. The average monthly salary of almost 20,000 Yemeni rials (about 100 US dollars) may not be enough even to buy a daily supply of bread. Prices of vegetables have risen by almost 200%. High fuel prices are responsible for much of the increase in food and transportation costs. The price of one litre of diesel has gone up from 35 to 150 Yemeni rials.

" Thousands of displaced people are currently stranded in rural areas out of reach of humanitarian assistance, " said Daniel Gagnon, who is currently in charge of ICRC's sub-delegation in Sa'ada. " We do not have a clear understanding of the extent of the problems they could be facing. The main issue for us is not a lack of resources but rather not having immediate access to all persons affected by the ongoing fighting. "

  • The ICRC has registered some 1,500 displaced families in Amran governorate. Of these, 300 families have already been given such essential items as tarpaulins, blankets, mattresses, stoves and gas bottles. Assistance to other families is ongoing.

  • In Amran city, the ICRC and the Yemen Red Crescent distributed two-month food rations consisting of wheat, oil, sugar, beans, rice and salt to more than 2,700 people.

  • Since July, the ICRC and the Yemen Red Crescent have distributed food to more than 73,500 people, and other essential items to more than 53,500 people, in Sa'ada and Amran governorates.

The ICRC has been working in Yemen since 1962 and in Sa'ada governorate since 2004. Its workforce has been increasing steadily since the beginning of the year; the organization currently has 111 staff based in the country – 69 in the capital Sana'a, including 19 expatriates, and 42 in Sa'ada, including five expatriates.

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