Officials warn of humanitarian crisis as IDP population doubles

With the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in northern Yemen having reached 250,000, more than double the number that existed before the current round of fighting between the army and Houthi-led rebels broke out on 12 August 2009, aid workers and local officials have warned of a lack of shelter and basic services for them.

“Despite three existing IDP camps in Hajjah governorate which are continually being expanded, the lack of adequate shelter is a major concern for UNHCR [the UN Refugee Agency],” Andrej Mahecic, UNHCR spokesperson, said at a press briefing on 29 January 2010.

“Many displaced Yemenis are in makeshift sites which have mushroomed along the roads leading to the camps. The situation is equally difficult in Amran province where the vast majority of IDPs is either staying with relatives and friends or renting accommodation,” he said, adding that the refugee agency and its partners were providing tents to displaced families in host communities.

The intermittent conflict since 2004 had displaced some 120,000 people in and around Saada Governorate prior to the start of the sixth and most intense round of clashes in August last year, according to UNHCR.

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 IRIN's Arabic news service

Fighting moving 

“Over the past six weeks, we have been witnessing a steady influx of around 1,000 families [some 7,000 people] arriving to Hajjah province, west of Saada, each week,” Mahecic said. He said fighting was gradually moving northwest from the Saada city area towards Razeh, Ghamr and Saqain districts, where the majority of people displaced over the past six weeks were coming from.

Abdullah Dhahban, a local councilor in Saada, told IRIN on 30 January that IDP camps were becoming crowded with new arrivals. "I noticed this problem in Mazraq Camp in Hajjah where up to five families [about 35 people] take shelter in one tent for up to five days until they are registered to get tents and other basic relief items," he said.

He said because many IDPs arrive in al-Mazraq without identification documents, "their identities need to be attested by local council members or ‘aqils’ [village chiefs] from their areas, which delays their registration by camp management committees in order to get ration cards and be eligible for assistance”.

Dhahban expected the number of IDPs to continue increasing as a result of ongoing clashes in various Saada districts, as well as in Amran governorate's Harf Sufyan area.

Photo: Adel Yahya/IRIN
IDPs at al-Mazraq camp queue for food at lunch time. An aid official said "the needs of the people clearly exceed the capacity of the humanitarian response"

“Serious humanitarian crisis”

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned on 25 January of a “serious humanitarian crisis in the making” if no immediate action is taken to counter the worsening IDP situation.

"The conflict in the north of Yemen has been neglected for far too long, and the situation is made even worse by poverty and a lack of water and food," Dominik Stillhart, ICRC's deputy director for operations, said. "Most importantly, security conditions have continued to deteriorate, which has also made our work much more difficult and dangerous."

Following a short visit to northern Yemen, Stillhart said because “the needs of the people clearly exceed the capacity of the humanitarian response” local citizens were becoming increasingly frustrated.