(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Taiz facing a humanitarian crisis

Water trucks are unable to supply water to families in Taiz City because fighting between government and opposition forces in early December 2011 have made the roads unsafe
Adel Yahya/IRIN

Yemen's southern city of Taiz – scene of mass protests demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh - is facing an increasingly serious humanitarian situation, with dozens killed and injured, and limited access to water, health and education after several days of fierce fighting.

Unsafe roads have interrupted the movement of water trucks in the city since clashes erupted on 29 November between government forces and an armed opposition that supports the civilian protesters. Taiz, a water-scarce city, relied on trucked-in water before the conflict.

"At the moment, we don't have even a drop of water at home,” Abdulqadus al-Maqtari, who has been waiting for water for more than a week , told IRIN. “The toilet is blocked... It is becoming extremely difficult for us to relieve ourselves. We have to wait until it gets dark to relieve ourselves outdoors."

Several hundred families in the neighbourhoods of Beer Basha, al-Hasab, Zaid al-Moshiqi and 60-meter Street have been living this way for the past few days.

The UN says 22 people have been killed and 83 injured in intense fighting since 1 December. Sultan al-Samai, a member of parliament from Taiz, said indiscriminate shelling of neighbourhoods was the cause.

Fighting between government and opposition gunmen has continued, despite a deal signed last month in which Saleh agreed to hand over power to Vice-President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi within 30 days. The deal also stipulated that elections would be held within 90 days, with a new interim government to run the country until then.

Some government forces have been pulled back since 6 December, but both sides still have troops spreading into some neighbourhoods.

Medical facilities inaccessible

Families are resorting to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as consuming water stored in contaminated tanks, and poor sanitation practices. If the water supply remains interrupted much longer, cholera and other water-borne diseases are likely to spread, said Abdullah Mursid, head of the Epidemiology Surveillance Department in Taiz governorate.

''Trying to save a life can cost you your own these days''

Public hospitals in Taiz have been running short of medicine and medical supplies due to insecurity and lack of funding amid the ongoing political crisis, said Baligh al-Thwari, head of the government’s Medical Performance Monitoring and Follow-up Department in Taiz.

"Hospitals are incapable of treating the injured, nor are they prepared to cope with any potential spread of water-borne diseases," he said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said there were also “worrying reports” of injured people being unable to reach medical facilities, and of facilities being attacked and damaged.

"The violence has had a serious impact on basic services in recent weeks, with life-saving medical services especially hard hit,” said Eric Marclay, the ICRC's head of delegation in Yemen. “The ICRC reminds all those concerned that all possible measures must be taken to search for, collect and evacuate the wounded and sick.”

In some cases, Yemen Red Crescent volunteers and others transporting the injured have been prevented from saving lives or have been injured themselves. "Trying to save a life can cost you your own these days," Marclay said. "Anyone who is injured must be able to receive life-saving medical care without delay.”

A young girl collects water from a trickling tap in Beer Basha neighbourhood, Taiz City, Yemen

Adel Yahya/IRIN
A young girl collects water from a trickling tap in Beer Basha neighbourhood, Taiz City, Yemen
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Taiz facing a humanitarian crisis
A young girl collects water from a trickling tap in Beer Basha neighbourhood, Taiz City, Yemen

Photo: Adel Yahya/IRIN
Health officials fear water-borne diseases could spread in Taiz because of the severe lack of water in the city

On 5 December, the Human Rights Information & Training Center (HRITC), a rights group based in Taiz, appealed to aid agencies to intervene and "rescue the Taiz population from a potential humanitarian catastrophe".

The humanitarian situation has been deteriorating since the first day of December due to the unprecedented shelling, insecurity and lawlessness in the city, the statement said.

"Hundreds of thousands of people will be affected if no humanitarian interventions are made to save civilian lives," HRITC warned.

According to Nabil al-Basha, a municipality officer in the city, bakeries and groceries have closed in many neighbourhoods, most notability in Beer Basha and al-Hasab. "Dozens of critically injured cases remain without access to necessary medication [due to insecurity]," Al-Basha told IRIN.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said three children had been killed and seven injured in the latest round of violence in Taiz.

Access to basic social services is increasingly limited and schools and hospitals have been occupied or come under attack, depriving more than 100,000 children of access to schooling or healthcare, UNICEF said.

Rights violations

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has voiced concern about the deteriorating situation, despite the peace deal.

“Unarmed civilians, including very young children, have been shot and left dead or with serious injuries,” Pillay said. “It is appalling and extremely disappointing that despite the successive deals and ceasefires, government security forces continue to use live ammunition against unarmed protesters.

“The government must immediately ensure that lethal force and heavy weapons are not used against peaceful demonstrators. Human rights violations in Taiz must be independently investigated, the results of the investigation must be made public, and those responsible must be brought to justice without delay.”

Mass pro-democracy protests and fighting between government forces and opposition tribesmen in other cities, including the capital Sana’a, have killed hundreds of people. In addition, some 400,000 people have been displaced by separate conflicts in the north and south of the country and widespread malnutrition, which affected more than one-third of the Yemeni population before the political crisis, is feared to be rising.

Humanitarian partners will expand their programmes next year to target 3.8 million people needing assistance, requesting total funding of US$452 million for 2012.


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