YEMEN: Saada city residents most affected by fighting

Source: IRIN
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SANAA, 13 September 2009 (IRIN) – The current bout of fighting between government troops and Houthi-led Shia rebels in northern Yemen is having the worst effect on civilians since intermittent clashes began five years ago, according to aid agencies. Those trapped by fighting in Saada city, whether residents or internally displaced persons (IDPs), are most in need as food reserves and clean water rapidly diminish and lack of power or phone lines further isolates them. “Trapped IDPs in Saada city and the northern part of the province suffer the most as fierce armed confrontations impeded aid agencies’ access to them,” Laure Chedrawi, spokesperson for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Yemen, told IRIN on 12 September. The humanitarian community has repeatedly appealed for the opening of humanitarian corridors to allow access and delivery of urgently needed relief items to civilians and IDPs. Renewed clashes began on 12 August in Saada Province and spread to neighbouring areas, most notably Harf Sifyan District of Amran Province. The month-long fighting has displaced an estimated 50,000 people, bringing the total number of IDPs since 2004 to 150,000, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Close to 75,000 children are directly affected, according to Nasim Ur-Rehman, chief communications and information officer at the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). “Due to the ongoing fighting and lack of security, many of the displaced have been beyond the reach of the aid community,” Ur-Rehman said. Price hikes People who have fled to Saada city have inadvertently put more pressure on the city’s population and infrastructure. “Around 20,000 people fled to the city, making its population increase by one third. As a result, prices of basic commodities doubled. Residents of the city were compelled to share their limited supplies of food, water and healthcare with IDPs,” Hisham Hasan, spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Yemen, told IRIN on 12 September. “We face extreme difficulty collecting accurate medical data on the conditions of stranded IDPs and residents in Saada as all the wired and wireless communication networks are down because of the fighting,” he said. Soaring prices of foodstuffs and other basic necessities such as drinking water and diesel have aggravated the plight of those trapped in Saada city, according to Saddam al-Abdeni, supply officer for NGO Islamic Relief (IR). “The price of wheat jumped from YR 5,000 [US$25] per 50-kilo sack before the outbreak of the sixth war to YR 10,000 [$50] now, while the price of propane gas increased threefold over the past month – from YR 700 [$3.5] to 2,000 [$10] per cylinder,” al-Abdeni said. Risky trips According to a 9 September UNHCR report, most of the displaced in Saada Province are stranded and dangerously exposed to the fighting as they are unable to reach safer areas. “Heavy fighting between al-Houthi forces and government troops in and around Saada city in northern Yemen continues with utter disregard for the safety and well being of the civilian population,” UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic said at a press briefing on 8 September in Geneva. Some IDPs have resorted to risky journeys through mountainous deserts and women, children and infants are forced to flee through roads where landmines are planted, Mahecic said. Mahecic added that some uprooted civilians in the southwest of Saada Province had spent days in the desert before reaching an IDP camp. “Most of the displaced arrived at the Mazraq camp, in neighbouring Hajjah province, traumatized and exhausted. Some had walked through the desert for five days before reaching the camp, spending nights under trees as there was no other shelter. The majority of the displaced are women carrying hungry infants and crying babies.” Saudi aid route Unable to reach Saada city by road from the capital Sanaa, aid agencies are seeking a safe route there from bordering Saudi Arabia. In coordination with the World Food Programme (WFP), UNHCR is preparing to launch a cross-border aid operation from Saudi Arabia in the coming days, Chedrawi said. In the Baqim area, near the northern border with Saudi Arabia, there are between 15,000 and 30,000 inaccessible IDPs in urgent need of essential relief items, according to Chedrawi. “We are waiting for security clearances from both Yemeni and Saudi governments to deliver essential aid to those stranded IDPs,” she said. “We have already positioned tents, mattresses, blankets and other essential relief items for more than 2,000 people on the Saudi side of the border and are in close contact with the Saudi Ambassador in Yemen, as well as the governments of both states.”

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