Yemen: Mistakes made in relief distribution

News and Press Release
Originally published
DUBAI/SANAA, 18 November 2008 (IRIN) - Lack of coordination among aid agencies led to mistakes in the distribution of relief aid to the southern flood-hit governorates of Hadramaut and al-Mahra, humanitarian workers say.

At least 90 people were killed, and 20,000-25,000 were made homeless by the October floods.

"This [lack of coordination] caused duplication in the distribution of relief items. There was a focus on a particular aspect - relief assistance - while other aspects, including the environmental situation, were ignored," Mohsen al-Duwailah, head of the Charitable Society for Social Welfare (CSSW) in Seyoun, told IRIN.

He said duplication was mainly in terms of food items, like rice, sugar, wheat flour and oil.

Specialists say that ignoring the environmental situation could lead to health problems, including malaria and diarrhoea. "The environmental situation is not good. Stagnant pools of water are a breeding ground for mosquitoes," he said.

The CSSW in Seyoun is responsible for distributing relief items in Hadramaut Valley, which includes districts such as Seyoun, Sah, Tarim and al-Qatn.

Al-Duwailah said a new council would be formed by the Ministry of Social Affairs to coordinate the distribution of relief assistance.

OCHA efforts

When the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) team arrived in the country a few days after the floods, it set up a coordination body in Seyoun to which people could go and share information, according to Carolina De Borbon Parma from OCHA's Emergency Services branch.

She told IRIN meetings with local NGOs were held in Arabic to ensure that people could participate and share information. "That's where you ensure that no duplication or gaps happen [in the future]. There was sometimes duplication and gaps but this is normal in the first two weeks of an emergency. People just rush out to help, then things start to slow down a bit and more in-depth assessments can be done," she said.

"It is an emergency situation and the best thing in emergencies is coordination," Khalid Almulad, an Islamic Relief representative in Yemen, said. "There is a role that everyone should play. There is a role for governments, donors, UN agencies, national NGOs, international NGOs and the communities as well. If all are on board, you will have a better mechanism and you will ensure that the gaps are identified and addressed."

"Unable to work"

However, several weeks after the floods, some of those affected said they had not received any assistance. Hani Omar, a fisherman in Mukalla, said the floods had destroyed his boat and caused damage to his home. "I have been unable to work since then and have no other source of income to maintain my eight children," he said.

Omar said he had not received any kind of aid either from NGOs or the government. "The floods caused cracks in my house; destroyed the ceiling fans and the sewage system. When I asked for relief aid, the local council said there were victims who needed assistance more than me," he said.

Regional contributions

Humanitarian activists monitoring the Yemeni floods said Arab countries were the first to respond, sending large amounts of relief aid.

Saudi Arabia donated US$100 million to help the victims, in addition to food and medical items, a source at the kingdom's Information Ministry told IRIN.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) Red Crescent sent a plane with 40 tonnes of food and non-food items and set up a relief centre in Tarim to provide medical services. It will also supervise an initiative to build 1,000 houses for those made homeless by the floods, Ahmed Yousef al-Suwaidi, the UAE Red Crescent secretary-general, told IRIN.

The Kuwait Red Crescent Society (KRCS) sent a plane with 10 tonnes of medicines - in addition to 27 trucks carrying 540 tonnes of food items, tents, blankets and mobile latrines, Yousef Al Me'raj, head of KRCS disasters department, told IRIN. "A convoy of seven trucks loaded with 140 tonnes of mobile latrines is to be sent on 22 November," he added.

Infrastructural damage

"The immediate emergency is now over," Islamic Relief's Khaled Almulad said. "Most of the damage affected infrastructural facilities like electricity pylons, roads and bridges. We need a long time to get things back to normal. This will not happen in the next six months," he said.

OCHA's De Borbon Parma said: "If you look at the land there, it went from green to brown. Everything that can make the [affected] people survive by themselves is going to be a major issue. So [reviving] agriculture and beehives sectors is crucial," she said.