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Alarm bells over worsening humanitarian crisis

An elderly IDP holds his voting card in Haradh District, north Yemen. Some 70 families are reported to have fled to Haradh due to clashes between Houthis and Salafis
(Adel Yahya/IRIN)

Yemen is heading for a major humanitarian crisis unless relief organizations quickly boost their response capacity, and donors, including wealthy neighbours, provide much-needed funding to contain rising malnutrition, disease and poverty.

“The humanitarian crisis in Yemen has reached a level where it affects millions of people, not only internally displaced people, refugees, and migrants, but also ordinary Yemeni families in all areas,” said a joint statement by international humanitarian actors, including UN agencies, the League of Arab States, and the Organisation of Islamic Conference, after a 6 May meeting in the Egyptian capital, Cairo.

Over the last two months, nearly 95,000 people have been forced to leave their homes as a result of two new conflicts. Since mid-February, an estimated 56,000 people (8,000 families) have been displaced in the south from Abyan Governorate, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). In the north, an estimated 38,000 people (5,500 families) have been displaced in Hajjah Governorate alone.

“Addressing the humanitarian needs of all these families is key to bringing stability back to Yemen and avoiding further deterioration,” the statement emphasized.

Raul Rosende, the head of OCHA in Yemen, told IRIN: “In 2011, the humanitarian situation in Yemen was bad. In 2012, things are worse. We have seen deterioration in the main indicators, and this is why we need to improve our humanitarian response.”

According to OCHA, some 44 percent of Yemen’s population - over 10 million people - are food insecure. Of that number, five million cannot produce or buy enough food. In Al Bayda Governorate, over 60 percent of the population are food insecure.

Alarm bells

Aid workers partly blame the situation on insecurity. More than 900 schools have closed, while damage to the health infrastructure and lack of vaccines and medicines has left a large number of children vulnerable to diseases like diarrhoea, cholera, polio and measles.

“This is a major humanitarian crisis,” said Lubna Alaman, the World Food Programme (WFP) country director. “We do not want to see the children dying.”

Most of the recently displaced families were forced out of their homes at short notice when fighting came close to their communities. “It is likely that these 13,500 new IDPs [internally displaced persons]… will remain displaced for a protracted period, possibly years,” OCHA said.

''I think it is high time the affluent neighbours of Yemen came forward and contributed. If this does not happen, the humanitarian crisis can lead to further political instability.''

In Abyan, fighting between government forces and the militant Ansar Al Sharia group has intensified, said the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Recent clashes in Lawdar (Abyan) have left hundreds of casualties and triggered a new wave of displacement. In Khanfar, people are leaving their homes because they fear more violence.

"The current security situation has hampered our access to certain areas, mainly in Abyan, and is making our work more difficult," Yehia Khalil, the head of the ICRC sub-delegation in Aden, said on 3 May. "The intense fighting has slowed our aid distributions in Abyan. We are concerned about the situation in Lawdar, to which we hope to soon gain access so that we can respond to humanitarian needs."

Civil society role

At the Cairo meeting, humanitarian actors called for active involvement by Yemeni civil society in the humanitarian development agenda, but civil society activists said they have been largely ignored by international donor and humanitarian organizations.

“These organizations prefer to deal directly with beneficiaries on the ground,” said Ahmed Al Sharaji, a Yemeni civil society activist. “Apart from weakening local NGOs, this contributes to exacerbating the humanitarian problems in Yemen.”

He said local NGOs were better equipped to know the needs of the Yemenis, and that is why they should partner with international organizations. He claimed that one humanitarian organization had spent a large amount of money on diapers for children, not knowing that diapers are rarely used in Yemen.

Funding for the humanitarian response has remained low. Of the US$1.5 billion needed to respond to humanitarian necessities, only a fraction has arrived, said Hany Al Bana, the president of the Humanitarian Forum, which co-organized the Cairo meeting.

According to OCHA, the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan is 20 percent funded, amounting to approximately $88 million. A funding gap of $360 million remains.

“I think it is high time the affluent neighbours of Yemen came forward and contributed,” said Naveed Hussain, the representative of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Yemen. “If this does not happen, the humanitarian crisis can lead to further political instability.”

The Cairo meeting put together a list of recommendations that will be presented to governments at a Friends of Yemen conference in the Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh, on 23 May.

Participants at Cairo promised that “We, the humanitarian community, commit to maintain and scale up our activities in order not to repeat the mistake of ‘too little too late' that we saw in the Horn of Africa.”

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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

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