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Humanitarian Situation in War-torn Yemen Worsening

U.N. aid agencies say they are very concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Yemen because of increased fighting between al-Houthi rebels and government forces in the mountains of northern Yemen. The U.N. refugee agency reports about 35,000 people around Sa'ada city have been displaced by the fighting in the past two weeks alone.

U.N. aid agencies describe a chaotic scene of misery and desperation. They say the area where the fighting is raging is remote and inaccessible. They say the roads to Sa'ada governorate are blocked and there is no access to the conflict zone by air.

They say many of those fleeing are taking great risks and are paying smugglers to get out of the area. The displaced are heading off in different directions in search of safety. Several camps for displaced people have been set up in Sa'ada city and other nearby governorates.

U.N. refugee spokesman, Andrej Mahecic, says the UNHCR was part of a joint UN team that has just concluded a joint mission to assess the situation.

"Our staff found many families fled, abandoning homes or previous displacement areas, to join refugees further south," he said. "They need shelter, clean water and basic sanitation facilities. Yemeni authorities informed UNHCR it plans to open a camp in the area to accommodate arriving IDPs."

Mahecic says U.N. agencies plan other assessment missions to areas of displacement. He says the UNHCR was granted access to Hajjah governorate where it began distributing relief assistance, including tents, plastic sheeting, blankets and jerry cans to IDPs.

But, he says, distribution of aid to displaced people in Sa'ada has been suspended due to the fighting.

"We are appealing for a ceasefire, which would allow the civilian population to escape the fighting and enable aid workers to resume deliveries of humanitarian assistance," said Mahecic. "We are also asking donor governments for an additional $5 million to be able to respond to this latest emergency."

"These urgently needed funds would allow UNHCR to organize coordination and management of the camps, expand registration and protection of IDP's, and provide much needed tents for shelter and other humanitarian assistance for the next four months," he added.

The U.N. Children's Fund says the current crisis is taking a terrible toll on children. It says malnutrition rates are high. It says 46 percent of children under five are underweight and 53 percent are suffering from stunting.

The World Food Program says it provided high energy biscuits to 7,000 people last week and on Friday it began distributing a one-month ration of cereals, pulses, vegetable oil, salt and sugar to 10,000 people.

But, WFP says it is short of cash and only has two more weeks of stock on hand.