Yemen: Flash floods cause havoc

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By Marie-Françoise Borel in Geneva

The Red Cross Red Crescent is helping thousands of people who have lost their homes and livelihoods to flooding in the south of the country.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has released 220,000 Swiss francs (201,000 US dollars/160,170 euro) from its disaster relief emergency fund to help thousands of people affected by flash floods in Yemen.

The money will support the Yemen Red Crescent Society, which is giving emergency assistance to those displaced by flooding in the governorates of Hadramaut and Maharah in south-eastern and south-western Yemen over the past four days.

According to government estimates, at least 100 people are dead, some 20,000 are displaced and more than 2,000 houses have been washed away.

Psychosocial support

The funds will finance initial distributions of food, tents, blankets, mattresses and kitchen utensils. It will also allow psychosocial support to be given to the most vulnerable among the affected population over the next three months.

"This disaster is one of the largest the country has ever known, especially in terms of the inaccessibility of the sites - because everything went underwater very quickly, which seriously hampered relief efforts," explains Tenna Mengistu, IFRC country representative in Yemen.

"It is quite probable that we will launch an international appeal, because of the scale of the disaster. The Yemen Red Crescent might require more support, especially if we take into account mid-term and long-term needs of the affected population, since many people have not only lost loved ones and homes, but also their livelihoods."

Relief items

Yemen Red Crescent Society volunteers are distributing tents and blankets while continuing to assess the situation. A warehouse has been rented in the affected region to handle incoming goods, such as the 35 tonnes of relief items sent by the United Arab Emirates Red Crescent and the six truckloads of emergency assistance from the Kuwait Red Crescent, which is on its way. Other Red Cross and Red Crescent societies are also providing essential support.

While the water levels are now dropping, the full extent of the disaster is now becoming clear as some areas have yet to be reached and the authorities are still repairing roads and rescuing people. The death toll is expected to rise as many people are reported missing. There are fears that many may be buried under the rubble of their houses, built from mud bricks.

Desolate picture

When the Yemen Red Crescent assessment team reached the village of Alfadhah AlSharqi, about 60 km from the city of Sayeoun and home to around 1,000 people, it was met with a desolate picture. All the houses in the village had been destroyed by the floods and some 97 families (each counting six to seven people) had been left homeless.

They have found shelter in mosques, schools, and some have joined relatives in a nearby village. With all the farms under water, most people have lost their livelihoods including their cattle, camels, and goats, which drowned in the floods. The Yemen Red Crescent is also looking at needs for water and sanitation facilities as well as basic medicines.