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Humanitarian situation in northern Yemen worsens

Briefing notes

Humanitarian situation in northern Yemen worsens

1 September 2009

A humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Sa'ada city in northern Yemen where the situation is deteriorating by the day. We are gravely concerned about the fate and well being of the civilian population trapped inside the city as a result of fierce fighting between Al Houthi forces and the government troops, now entering its third week.

To date, more than 35,000 people have been displaced in and around Sa'ada town. In total, we estimate some 150,000 IDPs have been affected by the fighting since 2004.

According to those who managed to flee the besieged city and our staff on the ground, the fighting appears to be concentrated in the old Sa'ada city. They also report frequent air strikes in the wider Sa'ada city area. As a result, more people are fleeing to other parts of the Sa'ada city seeking shelter and assistance - placing an additional burden on neighbours, friends and relatives as their own meagre resources are running out.

A 12-hour curfew is still in force restricting the movement of the local population and the internally displaced people (IDPs) especially during the night. Food reserves are running out and black market prices have risen dramatically in most of the districts affected by the fighting.

Those who can afford to pay are smuggled out of Sa'ada city across the mountains to the neighbouring Al Jawaf governorate. We still do not have access to that part of Yemen where we estimate as many as 4,000 internally displaced people have found shelter.

Despite the ongoing fighting, UNHCR local partners have registered 2,200 IDP families to date in Saada city and nearby villages. However, the security situation continues to impede the distribution of relief items intended for 370 vulnerable IDP families.

With worsening of the situation in the north, the opening of humanitarian corridors in northern Yemen that would allow civilians to leave the conflict zone and humanitarian workers to deliver much needed humanitarian aid to thousands of displaced people in this remote part of the country is a top priority for UNHCR.

The districts of Razeh and Shadaa in Sa'ada province are also under blockade because of the fighting, restricting the movement of people as well as goods and services. Baqem is hosting more than 3,000 IDP families who took refuge there before the fighting intensified. In Baquim, close to the border with Saudi Arabia, we estimate another 3,000 families from Sa'ada found shelter. UNHCR is in contact with both the Yemeni and Saudi authorities as we prepare to launch a cross border operation to help these people.

Meanwhile in Herad district of Hajjah governorate, local authorities and UNHCR are taking the lead in organizing assistance. A camp management committee has been established for the camp which meets on a daily basis. The Government is using 12 trucks to bring in the water every day. It has organized the collection of garbage from the camp and has provided 38 soldiers to guard the site. The authorities also made available a daily mobile clinic and provided two generators.

We urgently need US$ 5 million to respond to the emergency in northern Yemen. These funds would allow us to provide protection and much needed assistance for some 70,000 IDPs over the next four months in Sa'ada and other affected governorates such as Malaheet, Hajjah, and Amran.

UNHCR also appeals to the generosity of the international community and the Muslim world in particular, to alleviate the suffering of Yemenis displaced by the recent fighting especially during this holy month of Ramadan - a period of solidarity and sharing.