YEMEN: Fears of a humanitarian crisis as fighting intensifies

Protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh started in the first week of February and have since intensified/Photo: Obi Anyadike/IRIN
The death toll has risen sharply in the last few days of fighting in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a and hundreds of people have reportedly fled their homes, raising the possibility of a humanitarian crisis, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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“There has been continued shelling in the northwest of the city but there is no evidence yet of large-scale displacement in the city,” OCHA deputy head of office Pete Manfield, said. “But the situation could deteriorate into a major humanitarian crisis. At the moment, there is very limited fuel because of a blockade around the city which is starting to significantly affect daily life and activities.”

Figures compiled by the UN World Health Organization on 26 May, he added, indicated that 66 people, including a child and a woman, had died while 266 had been injured in the city. Another six reportedly died during clashes in Arhab area close to the airport.

The fighting could also worsen the existing humanitarian situation in the north by reducing access to vulnerable populations including 320,000 internally displaced people, and in the south where 190,000 refugees have been registered. “We have no evidence yet of impact, but the situation remains a complex political and military one with potential humanitarian implications,” Manfield added.

Other sources told IRIN long queues had formed at bakeries, banks and petrol stations as residents tried to stock up on cash and food. The power supply, internet and phone services in the city had been disrupted. The USA ordered all non-essential diplomats and embassy family members to leave the country. G8 leaders meeting in France called on the president to quit.

The fighting in the capital comes at a time when conflict in the north is continuing with the Al Houthis taking control of most of Sa’dah Governorate. Currently, the humanitarian country team is involved in dialogue to try and improve access to populations in need in the north.

The fighters who have reportedly taken control of some buildings in Sana’a, are headed by Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, leader of the Hashid tribal confederation, one of the two main tribal groupings. In the northern Al Hasabah area of the city near the airport, opposition fighters have also set up roadblocks. Shops were closed and some cars belonging to the Interior Ministry staff burnt.

On 25 May, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was “deeply troubled” by the continued violent clashes, warning that the confrontation might further destabilize the situation and called for an immediate end to the fighting.

Protests against the 32-year rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh started in the first week of February and have since intensified. Incidents of violence have taken place frequently leading to deaths. The president insists he will not step down and leave Yemen, telling his supporters on 13 May: “We will encounter defiance with stronger defiance.”

The crackdown on demonstrations and absence of agreement in the negotiations between the government and the opposition, analysts say, mean insecurity and instability will continue to increase throughout the country, even in relatively stable governorates like Hadhramaut.

According to Michael Horton of the Jamestown Foundation, frequent use of violence against demonstrators could also drive Yemenis from a range of political and tribal groups to take up arms against it. If the president leaves, such groups could also turn on one another.

Ginny Hill and Gerd Nonneman of Chatham House, on the other hand, argue that dramatic political change in Yemen could lead to violent upheaval and a humanitarian crisis, given the country’s deteriorating economic and security conditions.


Theme (s): Conflict, Early Warning, Economy, Governance, Refugees/IDPs, Security, Urban Risk,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]