100,000 people affected by rebellion in the north - ICRC

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Yemen said on 10 May that about 100,000 people have been directly affected by clashes between government forces and Shia rebels in Saada province, northern Yemen.

Iman Moankar, a spokewoman for the ICRC in Yemen, told IRIN that the living conditions of the war-affected population had been deteriorating since the beginning of 2008, not only because of clashes but also as a result of soaring food prices.

"Our concern at the moment is the security of the war-affected families and their living conditions. We appeal to fighting parties to facilitate humanitarian aid operations," she said, adding that tens of thousands of people in Saada province have become fully dependent on humanitarian assistance.

According to Moankar, there are 40,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) in Saada city alone, of whom 7,888 live in three camps. The rest live with host families. Moankar said that over the past three days 5,000 to 7,000 people had been displaced to the city. "They are waiting for shelter. They are not staying with host families," she said.

Fierce clashes

The ICRC’s comments were made as fierce clashes continued in Saada between government forces and followers of Shia rebel leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, according to residents in the province.

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Sheikh Saleh Habrah, a representative of al-Houthi, told IRIN on 11 May: “Today there was fierce bombing in some districts. Warplanes and helicopters bombed Dahian, al-Mahader, and al-Ghobair areas, killing 30 citizens. In Dahian district alone, 15 people were killed when their house was shelled by army planes.

“In Harf Sufian, a district in Amran governorate, al-Houthi supporters clashed with army forces after they tried to stop more troops entering Saada.” Habrah added that none of al-Houthi’s followers were killed in the fighting.

Habrah’s statements could not be independently verified but residents confirmed that the army has deployed more troops in the area over the past two days.

Aid operations

The intermittent four-year conflict has deteriorated the infrastructure in Saada, making it difficult for vulnerable people to have access to potable water and health services, according to the ICRC.

With a sub-office in Saada, including 11 international and 30 national staff, the ICRC is working closely with the Yemen Red Crescent Society (YRCS) to provide humanitarian assistance to the province’s displaced and vulnerable residents.

According to Moankar, the ICRC has helped over 80,000 people over the past six months with relief items such as tents, tarpaulins, mattresses, blankets, jerry cans, stoves and hygiene kits. Over the past two months, it has distributed food to 11,000 people in four districts of Saada.

In addition, aid teams are providing clean drinking water on a daily basis to about 5,000 IDPs in the three camps, which have been kitted out with showers and toilets, and the ICRC is providing primary health care for camp residents through mobile clinics.

The aid organisation has also helped 56,000 returnees. "The houses and farms of a lot of returnees were destroyed. We still provide assistance to them as they want to return to their normal life. We provide them with drinking water, kitchen utensils and shelter," Moankar said, adding that the ICRC coordinates with both warring parties in its aid operations and provides medical assistance to all injured persons, whether civilians or combatants.

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