Northern Yemen: needs growing as winter approaches

As winter approaches, the need for humanitarian aid is growing in the north of the country, in particular in Sa'ada and surrounding areas. The already dire situation resulting from years of conflict is being made worse by dropping temperatures.

By the end of October, the population in the camps hosting internally displaced people in Sa'ada had declined to less than 7,000, which made it possible to close two of the six camps. Nevertheless, many displaced people are still staying with host families in Sa'ada town, as they cannot yet return to their home areas. Many of those who do return find their houses damaged or destroyed by the fighting and need emergency assistance to re-start their lives.

An old sheikh, Mohammed Aidheh, now displaced in Sa'ada, said: "the conflict destroyed our homes and deprived us of our land; we lost everything... We receive humanitarian assistance from organizations and people of good will, but this cannot compensate for our loss..."

"These people have lost everything because of the conflict. We may not be able to give them back the lives they once had, but we can try to make their present lives better by alleviating their pain and sorrow," said Klaus Spreyermann, the ICRC's head of sub-delegation in Sa'ada.

The ICRC has been assisting the victims of the conflict since February 2007. However, poor security conditions and fighting have often made it difficult to reach those most in need of help. Since September, the ICRC has been able to expand its activities to areas outside Sa'ada town.

The ICRC is providing residents and displaced persons with food, essential household items, clean water and medical care. Distributions are currently taking place in Dahyan - north-west of Saada -, Al Humeidan and Al Mahbadh.

It is also providing medical supplies for health facilities, including primary health-care centres, in conflict areas with the help of the Yemen Red Crescent Society and the Ministry of Public Health and Population.

The ICRC is also helping dozens of families to maintain contact with their loved ones held in Guantanamo Bay, some of them for over six years now, through Red Cross messages and telephone calls. A new round of telephone calls started at the beginning of November. The calls were organized for the first time between April and August 2008, when 54 families spoke with their detained loved ones.

In addition, the ICRC is pursuing efforts to regain access to people deprived of their freedom. Visits to detention places were suspended in 2004.

The ICRC has been working in Yemen since 1962. It currently has 78 staff in the country, including 15 expatriates (seven of whom are based in the north) and 63 national staff. Since the ICRC set up a sub-delegation in Sa'ada in February 2007, it has been working in close cooperation with the Yemen Red Crescent Society to provide a wide range of assistance for the civilian population affected by the conflict.

Facts and Figures (January to October 2008)

The ICRC provided:

- tents, blankets, and kitchen and hygiene items to some 7,570 displaced families (approximately 56,500 individuals) and one-month food rations to 2,725 households (around 19,080 individuals) in Sa'ada town;

- together with the Yemen Red Crescent, additional relief items (blankets and hygiene items) in October to 1,086 families (8,224 individuals) in camps for the displaced;

- food to 569 families (4,080 individuals) in the Mahdah area (south of Sa'ada), in cooperation with the Yemen Red Crescent;

- food to some 2,800 families (approximately 17,000 individuals) in the Dahyan area (north-west of Sa'ada) in cooperation with the Yemen Red Crescent;

Assessments are under way with a view to distributing food and essential household items in other conflict-affected areas in the Sa'ada governorate.

To improve access to clean water and sanitation, the ICRC:

- improved the water and sanitation system in the six camps for displaced people in and around Sa'ada, by increasing the storage capacity to 144 cubic metres and by upgrading a borehole and water distribution system in Al-Anad, the biggest camp;

- built over 400 latrines to cope with the sanitation needs of the camps' population;

- organized water trucking to Al-Aredah and Al-Assayfi villages and covered the cost of pumping water and expanding the water network in Dahyan, benefiting 14,000 people;

- donated 60 water filters to the Hajjah Yemen Red Crescent branch to cover the needs of 55 displaced families;

- provided the main water pumping station in Sa'ada town with two submersible pumps and control panels, and paid for repairs to a generator to run these pumps, benefiting some 85,000 inhabitants;

- is currently repairing a 12-kilometre water network damaged by the fighting in Dahyan town (20,000 inhabitants), and building a 200 cubic metre water tank, which is expected to serve 20,000 inhabitants;

- is carrying out similar projects for some 9,500 inhabitants in Al-Area, Al-Saifi, Al-Humeidan, Al-Sari and Sudan villages.

ICRC support for health-care facilities

- In 2008, the ICRC provided basic medical supplies for five health centres in Sa'ada governorate, covering the needs of more than 50,000 residents and displaced people.

- It donated medical supplies to Sa'ada town's main hospital, covering the needs of approximately 5,000 residents and displaced people.

- In the camps for the displaced, the ICRC organized and supplied eight mobile clinics that carried out some 43,530 consultations, including 12,450 for children.

- The ICRC provided transportation and covered the cost of treatment for some 690 patients referred to private and government hospitals for secondary health care.

- In order to prevent disease, the ICRC has been supporting Yemen Red Crescent health education programmes for women and children living in camps for the displaced.

- Between April and June 2008, the ICRC deployed a surgical team in Sa'ada to treat more than 500 people who were injured as a result of the fighting and had no access to proper medical facilities because of the ongoing hostilities.

The ICRC also supports three prosthetic/orthotic centres with limb-fitting workshops in Aden, Mukalla and Sana'a.

- In 2008, 5,200 patients benefited from various services offered at these centres, which include limb-fitting and training.

- The ICRC continued to help prosthetists-orthotists upgrade their skills at two state-run centres by covering the costs of a three-year training programme for seven students.

The ICRC helped restore and maintain family links:

- 1,125 Red Cross messages were exchanged between people held in Gunatanamo Bay and their families.

- 410 Red Cross messages were exchanged between families in Yemen and their detained relatives in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon.

- The ICRC facilitated 56 hour-long telephone calls between Yemeni nationals held in Guantanamo Bay and in Afghanistan with their families in Yemen.

- 3,159 Red Cross messages were exchanged between refugees from the Horn of Africa and their families.

- The ICRC succeeded in determining the whereabouts of 46 missing persons and restored contact between them and their families.

ICRC assistance for women in prison:

- In 2008, for the seventh year in a row, the ICRC has implemented projects that aim to develop the skills, such as reading and writing, and sewing and embroidery, of 200 women held in 10 prisons.

- Three kindergartens have been established in the central prisons of Hodeida, Taiz and Sana'a, where a number of children live with their mothers.

ICRC assistance for foreign nationals before deportation:

The authorities in Yemen have to cope with an increasing number of people awaiting deportation. The ICRC, in cooperation with the Yemen Red Crescent, is continuing to assist those held at the immigration detention facility in Sana'a. Currently, over 200 people are receiving food and hygiene and basic health care items.

Promoting international humanitarian law:

The ICRC has been working closely over recent years with the various Yemeni institutions such as the parliament, government ministries, the armed forces, universities and schools and with NGOs to spread knowledge of international humanitarian law. To complement these efforts, the ICRC helped to establish and now works closely with the National Commission of International Humanitarian Law.

Supporting the Yemen Red Crescent Society in Wadi Hadramout

As part of the coordinated Red Cross/Red Crescent emergency response to the dramatic floods that devastated the Wadi Hadramout (in eastern Yemen) at the end of October, the ICRC donated a stock of 500 family filters to provide clean drinking water.