Tuesday, 3 August 2010

YEMEN: Juggling the different aid priorities in Saada


- Head of the government’s Reconstruction Fund (RF) Mohammed Thabit says the UN World Food Programme (WFP) should stop giving food to internally displaced persons (IDPs) and contribute instead to the reconstruction of Saada Governorate.

"Food aid encourages too many IDPs to stay in their areas of displacement," he said. "If WFP stops giving food, IDPs will be compelled to return home and cultivate their land to get food. Otherwise, they will remain dependent on aid without thinking about returning.

" WFP representative in Yemen Giancarlo Cirri told IRIN the agency was ready to support recovery and reconstruction through cash or food-for-work programmes, if security and access allow.

A local analyst, who preferred anonymity, criticized the government's decision to reconstruct Saada Governorate during "a fragile truce'' between Houthi-led Shia rebels and government forces which has beenbreached many times since it was announced in February 2010.

The government is doing this at the same time as asking Qatar “to play a role in containing the escalating situation in Saada after local mediation efforts failed," he said. "It’s the wrong decision.

Compensation The government’s Saada Reconstruction Fund (SRF) on 2 August began dispensing financial compensation to hundreds of families in the northern governorate of Saada, where houses have been destroyed or damaged in six years of intermittent fighting.

Some 779 families in Saada city and 342 in the al-Uqab area of Sahar District, 2km west of the city, were to receive the first payments, Thabit told IRIN on 1 August. Before being promoted to RF head, he was SRF head.

"These are the only two areas for which we have complete statistical data about the destruction," he said, adding that damage assessments were ongoing in other districts, where security allowed.

In July, the RF gave YR 717.2 million (US$2.9 million) in compensation to residents of Bani Heshaish District, some 30km east of Sanaa, for damage to 379 homes and 26 public institutions in early 2008.

Thabit reckoned 16,000-17,000 families had had their homes and/or farmland ruined or damaged since 2004 in Saada and Amran governorates.

"In al-Uqab alone, up to 140 farms have been devastated," he said. Saada Governor Taha Hajer said families whose homes were destroyed would receive compensation in four instalments - one per month.

"The state bears the responsibility of reconstructing homes and facilities damaged in all Saada districts, security permitting," he said. He urged local councils in Saada to help with the “comprehensive reconstruction of all Saada districts.

They are seen as the most effective partners of SRF," he said. IDPs Nearly 350,000 people have been displaced since 2004 and hundreds of others killed, according to the UN Refugee Agency.

But many IDPs say they are unable to return home, as the government has requested, without assistance to rebuild damaged homes.

"They [authorities] ask us to return after their jets destroyed our homes," said Yahya Hajouri, an IDP from Saada’s Malaheeth District who is living with his family in al-Mazraq I camp in neighbouring Hajjah Governorate.

SRF teams are still assessing the damage in his home district. "Do they want us to sleep in the open? Do they want us to lose our dignity?" Hajouri asked. According to a 12 July update by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the destruction in Malaheet is severe, with 80 percent of houses damaged or destroyed.

"Many people are living in partially damaged houses, which poses severe safety risks. Urgent repair of homes and provision of NFIs [non-food items] is needed," it said.

A 14 July report by the local independent news website al-tagheer.com estimated that the clashes from mid-August 2009 to mid-February 2010 had cost US$850 million - $750 million in weapons and soldiers, and $100 million in reconstruction.

Some 4,141 homes, 201 public institutions and 24 poultry farms had been damaged or destroyed, it said.

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