Yemen’s IDPs caught between harsh conditions and scant aid
Nasib was married to an old, feeble man, who suffered from multiple diseases, including diabetes and high blood pressure. The couple has 12 children, four boys and eight girls.
When the war in Abyan erupted, Asmahan’s family left their hometown of Zinjuar, the provincial capital of Abyan, as did thousands of others, seeking shelter in the neighboring port city of Aden.
On their way to Aden, Mohammed, Nasib’s husband, suffered a severe rise in blood pressure. She tried to rush him to the nearest hospital or medical center, but unfortunately he passed away before they could make it.
Nasib continued on the trip to Aden with her children, her heart filled with grief over the loss of her husband and the pain of leaving her home. Worry about what was awaiting her in Aden added to her misery.
When they arrived in Aden, they took shelter in Saeed Naji High School in Al-Mansoura district. She along with her children are still there, looking forward to the day they can return home once the war ends.
Nasib says she gets a ration of two bags of flour, 10kg of sugar, and 10kg of rice on an irregular basis, indicating that the ration is not enough to feed her 12 children.
Like Asmahan, there are thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) facing hunger, cold, and potential diseases as they don’t have even the basic necessities of life.
Most of Abyan IDPs, estimated at 160,000, have taken shelter in makeshift camps and public schools in the bordering governorates of Aden and Lahj. They are in desperate need of emergency aid.
The recent fighting between government forces and militant groups in Zunjubar and Ja’ar, the two biggest towns of Abyan, has displaced an estimated extra 8,000 families, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said on Wednesday, March 21.
While 4,000 thousand families fled to neighboring areas of the same governorate, another 4,000 families have sought refuge in the bordering governorates of Aden and Lahj.
Naveed Hussein, the UNHCR country representative, said that “displacement of people either due to armed conflicts, or to natural disasters is a bitter experience in every sense of the word as the IDPs lost everything they have.”
Hussein assured that the UNHCR is working with the Yemeni government and other humanitarian organizations in the country to provide the required assistance to those who left their homes due to the recent wave of violence.
He stressed the importance of accommodating the displaced people, and providing them with basic assistance such blankets, food, and mattresses. He affirmed that the UNHCR is obliged to help the government in meeting the needs of the internal refugees.
The IDPs complain about not directly receiving relief aid provided by the UN humanitarian agencies on a regular basis.
Nabil Al-Amoudi, the spokesperson for Abyan’s displaced people, said that most of the donated aid had not reached the internal refugees in Aden and Lahj, stressing that such aid goes to the IDPs Executive Unit, a government body that was established to help Abyan IDPs.
He accused the Executive Unit of not distributing the aid directly to the refugees, and of making inaccurate statistics of displaced persons.
“While the actual number of internal refugees does not exceed 80,000, the Executive Unit estimated it at 168,000,” he said, adding that the unit sells a large amount of the donated aid on the black market, rather than distributing it to the IDPs.
He explained that the World Food Program (WFP) and UNHCR don’t distribute the aid directly to the IDPs.
“They [WFP and the UNCHR] deal with the government Executive Unit, which suffers from rampant corruption,” said Al-Amoudi.
“The Sultanate of Oman and China donated large amounts of humanitarian aid six months ago, however, the unit started giving that out only this month after the IDPs protested their demands,” he said.
The governor of Abyan, Saleh Al-Zarawain, was commissioned with a team in March to investigate the problem.
“The team found that the stores of the unit are full of food aid,” Al-Amoudi said.
Abdullah Al-Dahimi, manager of Executive Unit, has admitted that assistance rations are not being distributed regularly. However, he has put that down to several obstacles that have impeded the distribution process including road blocks, particularly on the main road between Abyan and Aden.
He affirmed that Oman, China, and some UN agencies such as WFP, UNICEF, and UNHCR have donated large amounts of aid for the IDPs.
He said that the unit had distributed most of the aid received and that aid that had not yet been given out would reach the internal refugees in the coming months.
In the northern governorate of Hajja, violent clashes have recently erupted between the Shiite Houthis and Sunni tribesmen in the areas of Kushar, Mustaba, and Ahem, displacing at least as many as 5,500 families according to the UNHCR.
Hajja already had tens of thousands of IDPs who were displaced as far back as 2004 by the Sa’ada conflict between the government and the Houthi rebels.
The displaced families are living in extremely harsh conditions due to the lack of tents, food, blankets, mattresses and other basic needs.
The UNHCR said it began coordinating with the Yemeni government to offer aid and respond to the newly-displaced persons.
It has already provided 1,300 displaced families with some of the emergency aid required, including tents, blankets, mattresses, and cooking utensils.
Hadi Wardan, a member of the local council in the Sheras district of Hajjah, said the real number of IDPs is more than has been estimated.
He put the number at 15,000 IDPs, noting that they suffer from extremely harsh conditions, and that diseases have begun spreading among the refugees, especially the children, due to the unsanitary, unhygienic environment they live in.
Most of the inhabitants from the war-hit areas in Hajja sought shelter in the Wadi Al-Aridh area. Some took refuge in Sana’a and other places.
“Almost all the inhabitants of the Ahem district – the biggest district in the governorate which is the scene of the most deadly clashes since the outbreak of violence six months ago – have left their homes and that district now is almost empty,” Wardan said.
So far the IDPs of Hajja have only received 1,700 tents, and insufficient amounts of flour, and sugar that were donated by the local Islah Charitable Organization, and the Qatari Charity Organization.
“The displaced community still lack tents and the UN agencies and international humanitarian organizations have not yet assumed their role,” said Fuad Al-Alwi, a journalist and human right activist working with HOOD. Al-Alwi visited the area one week ago to inspect the humanitarian conditions.