Anger over delays in food distribution to flood victims

Delays in distributing food aid are generating anger and despair among people in the southern Yemeni governorate of Hadhramaut affected by the October 2008 floods, flood-displaced people and community leaders say.

“We only received food rations for one month after the disaster,” said Issa Awadh Sedan, a mason from Mashta, a severely affected part of Tarim District in Hardhamaut.

Sedan lost his house in the floods which left 47 dead and displaced 25,000 others.

People IRIN spoke to said that a few weeks after the flooding, food aid had become erratic and inadequate, despite government promises to distribute it until the displaced had settled back into their repaired homes or elsewhere.

“We received fewer items than what we are supposed to get as per the ration card. Last time they gave us three items but noted on the card that we had received everything,” Sedan said.

“The government only distributed rations once. They did not give us milk for the children or ghee. We only got flour, rice and pulses,” said Assia Khamis, 21, a housewife from Mashta.

Photo: Dana Hazeen/IRIN
Houses in Thabi, one of the villages in Tarim district, destroyed by the devastating floods that hit Hadhramout in October 2008

Many of those affected not only lost their homes but also their livelihoods: “I used to work on an onion farm in Mashta, earning 200 riyals [about US$1] per day,” Mariam Said, a middle-aged woman, told IRIN. “An NGO rented a house for us here in Hafat Al Mihdhar [about 10km from Mashta] where it is difficult for me to work again. There are no farms in this area,” she said.

Slow resettlement process

The process of resettling internally displaced persons (IDPs) might take a long time, according to officials.

A reconstruction fund was established in early December, but its executive director was appointed only at the end of February. The fund has begun allocating plots for new houses, but a local expert in mud-brick buildings told IRIN that such buildings - designed to preserve the area’s heritage - would take at least a year to complete.

The government has asked the World Food Programme (WFP) to handle food distribution. “We agreed with them in November, signed the contracts in December and handed over the food items to them in February,” Fahad al-Ajam, deputy governor of Hadhramaut, told IRIN.

“Administrative disputes”

Sasha Hafez, WFP’s senior logistics assistant, told IRIN in Seyoun there had been delays: “It seems there have been some kind of administrative disputes… We received the second batch [of food] for distribution in March.”

Photo: Dana Hazeen/IRIN
Remains of palm trees that were uprooted by the floods

Security problems had also caused delays: Attacks on South Koreans in Shebam, a flood-hit district of Hadhramaut, and Sanaa, had interrupted distribution for 10 days. “We were not allowed to move for security reasons. We resumed distribution last Thursday [26 March] in Som, and we are distributing now in Sah; then we will move to Tarim, Al Qatan and other districts,” Hafez said.

Meanwhile, lack of information about food stocks in government warehouses could hamper aid efforts, according to aid workers.

“For reasons we don’t know, they [government officials] are not revealing how much food they have in their warehouses. WFP is only the logistics organiser for this operation,” said Hafez, explaining that such information was vital in order to plan and coordinate future food shipments with donors.

WFP was now combining in its distributions food items from donors and those from the government, and trying to shift perishable items first, he said.