YEMEN: "Dire" IDP situation made worse by cold weather

News and Press Release
Originally published
SANAA, 7 January 2010 (IRIN) - The plight of tens of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in tents or deserted houses in the volatile northern Yemeni governorate of Saada and surrounding areas is worsening because of cold winter weather, aid workers and local officials warn.

"The already dire situation due to the armed conflict is being made worse by falling temperatures, particularly in Saada Governorate and surrounding areas," said Rabab al-Rifai, spokesperson in Yemen for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which runs five IDP camps in Saada in cooperation with the Yemen Red Crescent (YRC).

She said weather conditions varied in different parts of Saada. "It can be as high as 20 degrees Celsius during the day, but as low as five to zero degrees at night depending on the area. It can get extremely cold and windy, and even rainy in places like Mandaba, thus increasing the risk of respiratory infections among IDP adults and children."

According to Saada local councillor Abdullah Dhahban, most IDPs in tents have no heaters and people often wake up to find their water (in jerry-cans) frozen. In addition, he said around 75 percent of the IDP camp population in Saada and Amran governorates were children, who are more vulnerable to cold weather.

Andrew Knight, an external relations officer at the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), told IRIN that implementing partner al-Amel Society had visited al-Salam Hospital in Saada City and found that more children had chest infections and skin diseases now.

"Follow-ups with doctors revealed that these children were suffering as a result of the cold weather and are in urgent need of winter clothing, including blankets, plus proper shelter," he said.

Blankets, medical aid

Knight said UNHCR had increased the number of blankets per person to two, and had distributed tents to thousands of IDPs who were living under trees or in makeshift shelters.

According to al-Rifai, ICRC-supported YRC clinics in Saada are providing primary healthcare to IDPs and residents alike, and referring those in need of more serious medical attention to specialized facilities.

"In Amran Governorate's Wadi Khaiwan, the ICRC also continues to support two Ministry of Health and Population clinics to ensure IDPs and other persons affected by conflict and chilly weather receive the minimum medical consultations", she said.

Giancarlo Cirri, representative of the World Food Programme (WFP) in Yemen, told IRIN the composition of the food basket provided to IDPs was designed with the colder weather in mind. He said WFP was assisting more than 150,000 IDPs and estimated this number would increase to more than 200,000 in the coming months.

Shia rebels in northern Yemen, in a bid for greater autonomy, have been fighting government forces intermittently since 2004.