The humanitarian situation in Yemen’s northern province of Saada is worsening with reports that the army is laying anti-personnel mines in the area, say sources with access to the region.
According to a source who spoke on condition of anonymity at the Saudi-built al-Salaam Hospital in Saada city, at least 60 people have been admitted to the hospital in recent weeks with injuries caused by landmine explosions. It is not clear, however, what type of mines government forces have been deploying in the region.
For the past few weeks, the army has been flying several sorties a day in attacks against suspected hideouts of anti-government fighters loyal to radical Shia leader Hussein al-Houthi. There have been hundreds of casualties on both sides and thousands of people have been displaced from their homes, say residents and local NGOs.
The fighting between the two sides has reportedly intensified recently with the government enlisting the voluntary support of tribesmen in the region and al-Houthi followers widening their area of operations. There are reports that the al-Houthi fighters are now operating in Ghamar district, close to the border with Saudi Arabia.
Fighting had been raging in a number of Saada districts - Haydan, Kittaf, Sahar, Saqeen, Baqem, Magz, al-Safra - as well as in Dhahian city. Some villages and districts have been turned into ‘ghost towns’ as residents have fled the intense fighting, according to a Western aid official who declined to be identified.
Only a few outsiders have been able to gain access to the area and most of them are reluctant to talk on record for fear of reprisals from the army. No journalist has been allowed into Saada and it has proved difficult to get through to anyone in the region by telephone.
Dead bodies left to rot
Some soldiers have told the media that in Dhahian dead bodies have been left to rot in the streets, raising fears of an outbreak of contagious diseases, especially now that the rainy season has begun.
Medical sources say the six hospitals in the region would be unable to cope should there be an outbreak of contagious diseases. Already, the al-Jumhury government hospital in Saada, which treats pro-army volunteers, is overwhelmed - as is al-Salam hospital.
Dhahian itself is under army siege and hundreds of civilians, including women and children, are trapped in the city by fighting.
The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) has a three-person team in Saada assessing residents’ needs, in particular water and shelter.
Thousands of internally displaced people have been moved to places far from their homes. Some are with families but many, including women and children, are living in tents. New areas have also been set up for them in Baqem, near the border with Saudi Arabia, according to media reports.
The ICRC says that it has provided assistance to 2,900 families (about 21,600 individuals). Up to last week, it had distributed 800 tents, 1,500 tarpaulines, 21,000 blankets, 20,000 mattresses and 6,000 water jerry cans.
Hicham Hassan, an ICRC official, told IRIN that his organisation was concerned that there could be an outbreak of hepatitis as a result of bad hygiene in the camps.
“Already, we have started to notice cases of diarrhoea among children. This could exacerbate,” he said. For the moment, ICRC doctors treat patients in tents and transfer emergency cases to Saada’s main hospital. Medication is paid for by ICRC, said Hassan.
At al-Anad camp for the displaced, the ICRC has built 24 latrines and installed water tanks, which they fill every second day.
“Because of the shortage of clean potable water, our water engineer is checking the possibility of dragging water from two nearby water sources directly to the camp to avoid refilling the tank every second day,” added Hassan.
Islamic Relief, Care International and other national NGOs have distributed supplies, including food and non-food items such as cooking pots and other utensils.
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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions