DUBAI, 9 June 2011 (IRIN) - Political violence has displaced thousands in Yemen, while a three-fold increase in the cost of food and water, combined with fuel shortages, is straining the ability of families to cope, aid workers warn.
In the capital, Sana’a, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has reported that about 4,000 residents are seeking protection as a result of fighting late last month in the northern Al-Hasaba district of the city between security forces loyal to President Ali Saleh and the armed opposition.
The target for government loyalists was the Al-Hasaba home of Sheikh Sadeq Al-Ahmar, head of the politically key Al-Ahmar family, who has emerged as a champion of those demanding Saleh’s resignation.
Humanitarian agencies are also aware of other smaller groups of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Sana’a.
Joint International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Yemen Red Crescent teams working in and around Sana'a have retrieved some 20 dead bodies since 4 June. On 7 June, seven bodies were recovered from Al-Hassaba, ICRC said in a statement.
The southern city of Zinjibar has reportedly virtually emptied since its takeover by anti-government militia, but ongoing insecurity has prevented aid workers from accessing the area.
According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), there could be as many as 35,000-40,000 IDPs in need in the coastal city of Aden, and the southern governorate of Abyan.
“Nearly 10,000 IDPs from Abyan, southern Yemen, are living in relocation centres in public schools in and around [Yemen’s second city] Aden,” said Pete Mansfield, OCHA deputy head in Yemen. A further 4,700 IDPs have been registered in Lahj.
Families in Aden are taking in many of those who have fled the violence in the south, but several of these households are already close to the poverty line and will need support, aid workers said.
At least 15 humanitarian organizations are working in Aden to provide water, shelter, food, health services and other assistance. “Coordination is progressing well but the needs are large,” Mansfield told IRIN.
NGOs are reporting that food and water prices have increased up to threefold in some urban towns, including Sana’a. A national fuel shortage is also continuing to disrupt markets, hamper the ability to pump and distribute water, and keep cars off the streets.
A tense ceasefire has held in Sana’a, but on the night of 8 June there were hours of celebratory gunfire by pro-government forces greeting the news that Saleh was out of intensive care after successful surgery in Saudi Arabia for wounds received in a rocket attack on the presidential compound.
“The intent was clear from government forces to remind everyone that they are still there,” a diplomatic source told IRIN. “Although the ceasefire is just about holding, tensions are very high.”
Yemen’s opposition and pro-democracy protesters are demanding that Saleh step down after 32 years in power, accusing him of corruption, cronyism and mismanagement. He has responded with violence. Since the start of the civil unrest in February, an estimated 225 people have been killed and 3,125 injured.
On 8 June protesters demanded that Vice-President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi agree to the formation of a transitional presidential council drawn from a broad base of Yemeni groups to run the country until elections. Both the protest movement and opposition parties want Hadi to renounce Saleh and block his return from Saudi Arabia.
“We ask Hadi to be wise to save the country,” Adil Al-Aswar, a member of a committee coordinating the protest movement, told IRIN. “If Saleh returns we will see the situation turn more violent.”