NEW YORK // With al Houthi rebels and government troops intensifying fighting across northern Yemen, UN aid officials have called for US$23.5 million (Dh86m) to feed and shelter a mounting number of poverty-wracked villagers displaced by the violence. Unable to open a "humanitarian corridor" to supply the estimated 150,000 people displaced by combat, the UN's aid chief, John Holmes, appealed for donors to dig into their pockets and help ease the crisis.
"The civilian population in this part of northern Yemen has suffered from the combined effects of extreme poverty, protracted absence of health facilities and insecurity for years before this latest crisis," Mr Holmes, the UN's under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs, told journalists in Geneva. "Following the latest wave of displacement, needs are now acute." The UN estimates that intensified combat beginning around Sa'ada City in July has forced 55,000 highland villagers from their homes, adding to the 95,000 displaced from previous bouts of fighting in a five-year-old conflict.
The expansion of combat and an exodus across Sa'ada, Hajjah, Amran and al-Jawf have forced civilians into makeshift accommodation - some even sleeping in half-built schools - without access to relief from aid workers. Refugees now swelter in the summer heat while suffering from outbreaks of measles and diarrhoea. A statement from the office of rebel Zaydi leader Abdul-Malek al Houthi released on Wednesday warned officials in the capital, Sana'a, of "grave consequences" to the conflict and promised a "long war of attrition".
He accused the government of "aggressions and tyranny" against Zaydi Shiites who make up about 23 per cent of Yemen's 23-million-strong population. Rebels describe a government corrupted by its backers in Riyadh and Washington and seek to restore the Zaydi imamate, which was overthrown in a 1962 coup. Yemen's president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has vowed to crush the rebels with co-ordinated air, tank and artillery attacks as part of operation Scorched Earth, which began on August 11. Officials have rejected rebel demands, called on fighters to withdraw, return weapons seized from the Yemeni arsenal and reopen closed roads.
Rebel leaders have also sought to embarrass the government by releasing a video apparently showing dozens of captured Yemeni troops, contradicting official reports that national forces were inflicting heavy casualties on the militants. firstname.lastname@example.org * With additional reporting by Reuters and the Associated Press