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Humanitarian Situation in Northern Yemen Deteriorating


U.N. aid agencies say the humanitarian situation in northern Yemen continues to deteriorate as the battle between the Yemeni government and rebels allied to al-Qaida rages on. The agencies say tens of thousands of civilians are trapped in the conflict zone and basic supplies are very low.

The U.N. refugee agency accuses the al Houti rebel forces and government troops of fighting with utter disregard for the safety and well being of civilians in and around Saada city in northern Yemen.

It says people forced to flee their homes arrive at a camp in the neighboring Hajjah province, traumatized and exhausted. It says the majority of the displaced are women carrying hungry children and crying babies.

UNHCR spokesman, Andrej Mahecic, says the situation for civilians inside Saada city is critical as the street battles rage on in several neighborhoods and in the old part of the city.

"Most of the displaced are stranded and dangerously exposed to the fighting as they are unable to reach safer areas," he said. "Mines and unexploded ordnance on the roads increase the risks for those trying to flee the area."

"Inside Saada city, people are living in extreme conditions. There is no water or electricity in Saada since the 12th of August and the food reserves are running out. Clashes have also spread to Harf Sufyan in Amran province, south of Saada forcing a new wave of IDPs" [internally displaced people]," he added.

The U.N. Children's Fund is one of many UN agencies urgently appealing for the establishment of a so-called humanitarian corridor, which would allow them to reach the people in Saada with desperately needed aid.

UNICEF says children are bearing the brunt of this conflict and many now have to live in camps, schools or with host families. With each passing day, it says the lives and wellbeing of these children are at increased risk.

The World Food Program says food supplies in Saada city are in critically short supply. WFP staff members, who had to leave Saada because of the dangers, now are providing services to internally displaced people in camps in Hajjah and Amran provinces.

WFP spokeswoman, Emilia Casella, says people in Hajjah are also suffering from extreme weather conditions.

"For many of them, it is unbearable compared to the mountainous area they fled from," she said. "And, because of the heat, some children are suffering from skin diseases. Those who managed to flee with their livestock are seeing that their livestock, mainly goats, are dying In fact from these conditions."

"Some families have been wandering around for almost a month and really with no shelter and barely any assistance. So, they are arriving in Hajjah in pretty rough conditions and we are particularly concerned about that," she continued.

Casella say WFP is preparing to provide special nutrition for children under five. But, this is a problem because aid workers are unable to reach the vast majority of people who need assistance. To date, she says, WFP has only been able to distribute food to some 13,000 people, while 150,000 are in need of such assistance.

The U.N. refugee agency says it is ready to launch a cross border operation from Saudi Arabia to assist IDPs scattered north of Saada city as soon as it gets the green light from both governments.

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