Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Human situation gets worse as Yemen war lingers on

By Nasser Arrabyee/22/10/2009

The human situation gets worse and worse as fighting between the government troops and Shiite rebels intensifies in Sa'ada north of Yemen.

No end in the sight although senior officials including the President Ali Abdullah Saleh keep saying nowadays the defeat of the rebels and end of the war will be announced in a matter of days.

Tens of thousands of people mostly women and children are suffering from hunger, thirst, lack of shelter and health care, in quick-fixed and unorganized camps, after they fled their homes because of the war.

Al Mazrak camp in the far west of Sa'ada, for instance, is one of at least four camps established to receive the displaced people from the areas affected by the western frontline of fighting in Al Malahaid, where the rebels tried to cut the high way between Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

Al Mazrak, where I visited as a journalist on Monday October 19th, is the only one that UN relief agencies can visit. The others are dangerous to visit because of the fighting.

Almost every body here in the camp of Al Mazrak complains of not having tents at all, or not having enough tents for their big families.

Water is relatively available in big tanks but no bathrooms, no kitchens are there. You can see only a piece of cloth hanging over three pieces of wood standing nearby some tents. That's the bathroom for men and women and children of these tents, said the 55-year old Yahya Ahmed Morshid, pointing to that piece of cloth which is used to cover those who need to respond to the call of nature.

Mr. Morshid, who has 11 children from two wives, complains that he did not have at least two tents for his two wives.

About two months ago, Morshid was in the qat market of Al Malahaid where he was selling qat to support his family.

"We heard heavy firing on the market and our houses around the market, it was hundreds of Al Houthis coming down from the mountains shouting angrily death to America, to death to Israel, curse to Jews, and victory to Islam," Morshid said.

"We were shocked, you can not imagine the shock we had," he said.

He was not expecting Al Houthi rebels to arrive his area at all because they were positioning very far and government troops were controlling all his areas of Al Malahaid before August 10th.

"But I hurried up to my house thinking only of my kids and wives, I was bundling the children into my pick up car like any goods," he said.

Despite continuation of firing on his house, he drove down with his big family, but after few kilometers later, his car had a puncture in one of the tyres.

"I continued driving in the direction of this camp until my car completely stopped, I and my two wives carried the small children and walked in a very sunny day," He said.

"Now I'm here as you can see doing nothing, I'm very bored, I want to get back to my house and start my work again to support my self and family," said Morshid who used to work as a qat trader.

At the entrance of Al Mazrak camp, you find a small school, which was built for the children of the area before the war.

This small school has more 942 students now after about 777 students joined it from the camp, which was established next to it.

The UN goodwill ambassador, the Egyptian artist Mahmoud Kabeel, visited the camp on Monday and saw the overcrowded school and health and food situation in the camp.

The health care service is even worse in this camp. The 15-month old twin, Mughnia and Ali were almost dying from diarrhea as soon as we have arrived in the camp early morning Monday October 19, 2009.

"The health situation is very bad here and it gets worse and worse, specially among the children, the twin of Mughnia and Ali you just saw is only an example," said Ms Chariotta Land, emergency child protection of the Save the Children organization.

"There are about 40 cases in this camp like this twin, and even worse and the number is getting higher and higher," said Ms Land who was very angrily shouting the twins should be taken to Sana'a for better treatment if you want to rescue them from death.

The twin was immediately taken with their mother to Sana'a after pressure from the UN goodwill ambassador Mahmoud Kabeel who dropped water to their mouths and took one of them into the ambulance car.

In the middle of the crowds, I saw an over-aged couple hanging around and trying to know and understand what journalists can give to them.

The couple Tanan Allaw and Shueyah Mubarak were crying for not having a tent although they have arrived in the camp one month ago.

The husband, Tanan who walks only with support from his wife, said they stay in relatives' tents during day time but they can not do that at night , so, they wrap themselves up with the blankets they received from the camp and sleep on the hot desert ground.

The 90-year old Tanan and his 70-year-old wife Shueyah walked for three days before they reached this camp after their house was destroyed in Al Malahaid area.

The young people of their 13-member extensive family walked only for one day. The distance from Al Malahaid to Al Mazrak camp takes about one hour by car.

The 25-year old Hamid Ali Ahmed's dilemma is somewhat different from the other IDPs I met here in the camp.

He was supporting his 5-member family from the money he gets from his 4-wheel drive car. He was transporting people from Yemen to Saudi Arabia and vice versa.

One day after the war broke out last August, a group of the government soldiers asked him to give them a ride in return for money from their post to the local market of Al Husama at the border of Saudi Arabia.

While he was driving them down to the market, Al Houthi rebels intercepted them and clashed with the soldiers.

"Only me and my 6-year old son Salem remained in the car after one soldier was killed and another was injured and the other 6 escaped," said Hamid.

This was not the end of his dilemma, it was the beginning. Shortly after he continued driving in the direction of his house in Al Husama, a group of rebels followed him shouting furiously, " Death to America, death to Israel, curse to Jews, and victory to Islam.", which is the slogan for which Al Houthi rebels have been fighting for about five years now.

They wanted him to stop and work with them with his car and his son.

"We are better than the Americans and Israelis, Al Houthis were saying to me, and they meant the Yemeni soldiers who were with me in the car," said Hamid.

They fired at the car killing his son Salem, and only then he stopped immediately when he saw Salem dying.

After he made sure his son was dead, he left the car and escaped to the Saudi Arabia lands, which was the only way for him to escape walking.

"I spent some days in the Saudi lands where the Saudi received me and some others like me, but I was crazy about my wife and my two daughters, they were waiting for me to come with their needs from the market," he said.

Hamid could not stay in Saudi Arabia without his family, so he decided to return to the crossing of Haradh where he found some relatives who told him that his wife and two daughters were already in the camp of Al Mazrak, about 35 kms east of Haradh.

"Now I have nothing, nothing with me, and I had only my car, I want it now to support my family, I haven't even cloths, I'm just borrowing this Jambia," said Hamid pointing to his traditional dagger on his waist.

Here in Al Mazrak camp, far west of Sa'ada, there are about 8, 000 IDPs most of them are women and children.

More than 60,000 people fled their homes in different places in Sa'ada after the war broke out last August. The UN estimates all IDPs since the first round war of war in 2004, at 150,000.

The UN says it needs about 24 million dollars to help those IDPs over the coming 4 months. About 10 million dollars was already pledged by many donors like US, UK, Saudi Arabia and others.

There are four other camps other than the Al Mazrak camp, but relief organization cannot reach them because of the fighting.

The camp of Alab far north of Sa'ada has recently revived relief assistance UN agencies in Saudi Arabia.

The camp in Houthi area south of Sa'ada is very dangerous because the rebels attacked the place of the camp many times in an attempt to attack the troops in Harf Sufyan.

The 4th camp is inside Sa'ada city and receives only assistance from the Yemeni government and some support from the normal people in Sa'ada and other areas.

The government set five conditions to stop the war and start talks about demands of the rebels. To go down from the mountains and hand over the weapons are the most important of them. A list of 55 rebels leaders including the top leaders Abdul Malik Al Houthi and his brother Yahya in Germany, and their father Badr Al Deen, was distributed every where in Sa'ada with their pictures.

On Tuesday, and Saturday of this week, 12 Al Houthi rebels were sentenced to death and 14 others were sentenced to 8- 15 years in prison for fighting with Al Houthi last year.

The 26 defendants were convicted, by the State Security Court, of forming an armed gang for fighting the State.

The 26 convicts are among a group of about 150 Al Houthi being tried now for igniting a 3-month long armed rebellion in Bani Hushaish, the northern outskirt of the Yemeni capital Sana'a in the middle of 2008.

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