With two million still displaced after years of conflict, UNHCR assistance helps the most vulnerable keep a roof over their heads and children out of work.
By Shabia Mantoo
AMRAN, Yemen – After narrowly escaping death when her house was bombed twice and fleeing her home city Sana’a, the last thing 35-year-old Dhawla Jarady was prepared for was eviction from her current home and the prospect of life on the streets with her family.
That was the situation she found herself in after falling into arrears on the modest mud-brick dwelling she now rents in Amran, a city some 50 kilometres northwest of the Yemeni capital.
“I used to have my own house in Sana’a but it was destroyed in the war so I had to sell all my property, gold and possessions so that we could flee,” Dhawla said.
She, her husband and their four children sought shelter in a two-room flat in an antiquated mud brick tower, using all their savings to cover the first few months of rent in the expectation that the war would soon be over and with it a return home.
With the conflict in Yemen now into its third year, Dhawla and her family exhausted all of their resources during two years of displacement, and were then handed a notice of eviction by their landlord after falling behind with rent.
“This war made us destitute. I stopped my children from going to school because we can’t afford it, we eat only whatever we can find - dry bread and tea if we are lucky, and then the landlord told us to leave. It has been so difficult for us,” she sighed.
The day before they were due to be turned out, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, provided Dhawla and her family with rental assistance in the form of a cash grant so they could pay off their debt and remain in their flat.
“We received the money yesterday, thank God for it! We gave half to the landlord and used the other half for food,” she explained.
After two years of continuous fighting and worsening conditions, almost 21 million people representing the vast majority of Yemen’s population have been affected by conflict and are in need of humanitarian assistance.
Those displaced are the most vulnerable, with three million people being forced to flee at some point during the conflict. Two million now remain displaced across the country while a further one million have attempted to return home.
Most of Yemen’s displaced live with host families or in rented accommodation, while others have been forced to take shelter in informal settlements or collective centres, such as unused schools, health facilities, or religious buildings which now accommodate multiple families.
With conflict still raging across the country, displaced families are now struggling to meet their primary needs including shelter, food and water. Eighty-eight per cent have been displaced for more than a year, with those living in rented accommodation often facing the lingering threat of eviction.
In response, UNHCR has provided the equivalent of US$200 in rental assistance to 9,200 vulnerable families at risk of eviction, identified by UNHCR field staff and partners through home visits, mobile assessment teams or by staff at drop-in community centres.
With extra funding for the scheme now received, UNHCR plans to disburse assistance to an additional 9,900 families before the end of the year.
All beneficiaries are carefully vetted to ascertain their eligibility and once confirmed they receive an SMS with a voucher code which is redeemable at various money transfer agents across the country.
For single mother Shafeeqa Eid, who is the sole breadwinner for her five children after losing her husband to a heart condition earlier this year, the rental subsidy has been a bulwark against sending her school-aged kids out to work.
“I want my children to continue their studies but if I didn’t receive the subsidy I would have had to take them out of school and make them work,” said Shafeeqa, who is in ill health and receives less than US$ 2 a day for laborious agricultural work in farms around Amran.
“With massive displacement, immense humanitarian needs and staggering poverty as a result of the conflict, most of those displaced in Yemen are now struggling to survive,” said UNHCR’s Representative in Yemen Ayman Gharaibeh.
“Cash assistance remains the most effective way of assisting and protecting those affected by conflict, but we require predictable and sustained funding to assure the tenure of these programs,” he added.
For Dhawla, the rental assistance has brought some respite for now from the looming threat of eviction, but the wait continues for a return to peace and home.