Yemen: foot-dragging over aid

Food is running out for tens of thousands of civilians displaced by the conflict in northern Yemen, the UN warned yesterday.

"The continuation of hostilities, the failure of the truce and the closure of roads has prevented humanitarian agencies from coming to the aid of the displaced," spokeswoman Laure Chedraoui told AFP.

The international Yemen Flash Appeal for $23.7 million, launched more than three weeks ago, has still not attracted any donors and aid agencies are using dwindling reserve funds to finance their activities.

Alongside these funding problems, the Yemeni government appears to be dragging its feet with regard to the distribution of aid, and neighbouring Saudi Arabia is doing precious little to help.

The latest situation report from the UN cites one example of the difficulties aid workers are facing:

Humanitarian relief response teams from Islamic Relief Yemen and MSF Spain managed to reach al-Hazem, the capital of al-Jawf governorate, with the aim of establishing an operation site in al-Marashi. However, on 16 September, the governor of al-Jawf, citing security concerns, denied clearance to the teams for onward travel to al-Marashi … In the end, the teams were requested to return back to Sanaa.

If the roads are unsafe, the obvious alternative is air transport. “Given the recurring difficulty of access to Saada, activation of passenger air transport services from Sanaa to Saada is recommended by the LRT [Logistics Response Team],” the UN report says. “This should provide an option, on an ad hoc basis, for safe transport to Saada.” But that, too, is waiting for authorisation by the Yemeni government.

If access from the south is difficult, what about access from the north, via Saudi Arabia? One consignment of food, destined for displaced people in Baqem, is currently stuck in the kingdom.
"The cargo is being held 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the border. The Saudi authorities have given the green light for the cargo to pass to Baqem, but we are still waiting," Chedraoui said.

The hold-up in this case seems to be on the Yemeni side but there’s no doubt the Saudis could do far more if they really wanted to help. For a start, as Chedraoui pointed out yesterday, the kingdom could open its borders to receive Yemeni refugees.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 24 September 2009.