SANAA, 8 September 2009 (IRIN) – The humanitarian community in Yemen is considering using Saudi Arabia as an entry point for getting aid into Saada Governorate, northern Yemen, where fighting between Houthi rebels and government forces has been raging since 12 August.
According to a recent report, by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Yemen’s minister of health has told the humanitarian community that talks are in progress between the Yemeni and Saudi governments to establish a corridor through which aid can be delivered across the Saudi border into Saada, rather than on insecure roads leading from Sanaa, the Yemeni capital.
“One of the new negotiations that the UN country team is doing is to try to go up north and get into Saada from Saudi Arabia,” Walter Bruzzoni, emergency coordinator at the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said.
The World Food Programme (WFP) sent a logistics officer to Saudi Arabia last month to look into the possibility of identifying “supply routes, warehousing, as well as ports to allow for the speedy delivery of aid” to Saada, according to Maria Santamarina, a WFP advocacy official.
“WFP is particularly interested in reaching the Baqim area of north Saada, where some 15,000 IDPs are estimated to have fled. To this end, the governments of Saudi Arabia and Yemen have been supportive and are assisting humanitarian agencies both to access the area through Saudi Arabia and assess the situation, as well as to arrange the delivery of aid,” Santamarina said.
Mohamed Nashwan, an IOM operations specialist highlighted access problems: “The big challenge is reaching the IDPs in Saada. We could reach them if the government and Houthis agreed a ceasefire to allow access, but at this moment I doubt that will happen.”
A ceasefire between the army and the Houthis, which was supposed to enable a safe corridor for aid to be delivered to Saada’s civilian population, broke down less than four hours after it was agreed on 4 September. Both sides accuse the other of breaching the agreement.
The UN estimates that 150,000 civilians have been displaced since 2004, when fighting between the government and the Houthi rebels first began. Aid agencies say this latest bout of fighting has been the worst in terms of its impact on Saada’s civilian population: For the first time IDPs are fleeing into Saada’s neighbouring governorates of Hajjah, Amran and al-Jawf.