Southern IDPs appeal for aid

Internally displaced persons (IDPs) who fled clashes in the past two weeks between the Yemeni army and militant groups in the central-southern governorate of Shabwa, some 400km east of Aden, are appealing to humanitarian organizations for aid.

Some of the IDPs fled to Aden city while others are sheltering in the Mafyaa, Habban and Azzan areas of Shabwa Governorate, according to Ahmad Tallan, head of local NGO Brotherhood Association for Peace and Development.

“We have nothing to eat. We have no mattresses and blankets. I don’t know why nobody is paying attention to our suffering. We spent the first three days sleeping in the open,” Ali al-Haddad, an IDP from Shabwa’s Hawta town currently sheltering in a deserted home in the Habban area, told IRIN. Al-Haddad left his home in Hawta on 14 September with his wife and their five children.

“The authorities ordered us to evacuate our homes as they were searching for militants in our town [Hawta]. Now, we are running out of the little food we took with us,” al-Haddad told IRIN.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid (OCHA), the most recent reports say 90 percent of the population of Hawta (7,180, according to the 2004 census) has fled to neighbouring villages. Although the fighting seems to have calmed down, there is still uncertainty about the real situation in areas where clashes took place.

Community leader Mohammed Yahya told IRIN the government was being negligent vis à vis the IDPs.

“The central government is not making a concerted effort to locate the IDPs and help humanitarian agencies provide relief,” he said, adding: “The only thing the government did was to order them to leave their homes.”

Ali Rashid, deputy governor of Shabwa, said the authorities were trying to locate the IDPs to help aid organizations reach them.

“We are also trying to collect money from local donors,” he said, adding that the security forces were doing their best to ensure aid worker access to the affected civilians.

Aid efforts

The UN World Food Programme (WFP), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) have pre-positioned some stocks in Mayfaa, such as blankets, kitchen sets, hygiene and school kits, as well as high protein biscuits, with the possibility of sourcing additional goods from Aden or Sanaa, OCHA said in a 25 September report.

UNICEF is also exploring the possibility of arranging for filling in any gap left in terms of water needs. "The actual decision about how to proceed with the interventions will be taken after closely monitoring the flow of returnees and the assessment of the damage that occurred in the affected areas," the report said.

On 28 September, the UN started to distribute aid to some 170 affected families, Claire Bourgeois, a UNHCR representative in Yemen, told IRIN.

"The UN received an additional list of 400 families in need, which may be getting assistance if indeed these are in need too," Bourgeois said.

The local independent news website said the Yemen Red Crescent (YRC) had assessed the humanitarian situation in Mafyaa and filed an initial report on IDP needs to the YRC branch in Aden. The report contained information on food and non-food item needs for some 8,000 people.

The Yemeni government launched a new offensive in mid-September against members of the al-Qaeda network in Shabwa, which is believed to be where top al-Qaeda leaders in Yemen are hiding.

Al-Qaeda has been held responsible for a number of deadly attacks in Yemen, including a raid on the country's intelligence agency in Aden in June, in which 13 people died.

Local sources told IRIN on condition of anonymity that more than a dozen militants and government soldiers were killed in the clashes and many others on both sides were injured. Several schools, mosques and homes were damaged or destroyed after the army bombarded suspected militant hideouts, they added.