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INTERVIEW-Yemen displaced face cholera risk, hunger - UNICEF
November 23, 2009 / 6:45 PM / 8 years ago

INTERVIEW-Yemen displaced face cholera risk, hunger - UNICEF

* New camp to open in a few weeks - U.N. official

* Camp to host up to 12,000 people but may be expanded

* Insecurity, local habits complicate work

By Olesya Dmitracova

LONDON, Nov 23 (Reuters) - Malnutrition and the risk of a cholera outbreak are threatening lives at Yemen’s main camp for people fleeing fighting in the north, a U.N. official warned on Monday.

Clashes between Yemeni troops and rebels in the northern Saada province have driven 175,000 people from their homes, according to the United Nations.

More than 10,000 are staying in al-Mazraq camp in neighbouring Hajjah province and twice as many people have settled outside the camp, Thomas Davin, a regional chief for the United Nations’ children’s fund UNICEF, told Reuters.

The majority of the displaced are children and women because men tend to stay behind to protect their homes and to fight, he said.

"Malnutrition is the greatest concern about displaced children," Davin said.

Severe acute malnutrition -- a life-threatening condition -- is much more common among children who have fled Saada province than in Yemen in general, which already has very high levels of child malnutrition.

UNICEF is also worried about a possible outbreak of cholera because poor hygiene and overcrowding create perfect conditions for the potentially deadly disease, Davin said.

Few of the displaced are used to washing regularly because water is scarce in Yemen and few use toilets, preferring to leave waste in the open.

"Hygiene is terrible, really, really terrible," Davin said.

Local customs complicate aid efforts.

In some cases, parents have given foods meant for treating malnourished children to their animals, which they view as part of the family and take with them when they flee.

"People say ‘if we lose the sheep it’s not the child that dies, it’s the whole family’," Davin said.

"A number of these people who are making it out are saying that it’s generally at least their second or their third displacement because this is the fifth time that war has broken out in the province since 2004," he added. "Each time of course they spent more money and more of whatever resources they had going around."

A new camp in Yemen for the displaced is due to open over the next few weeks and will be able to host between 10,000 and 12,000 displaced, Davin said.

"There is a plan for another camp to be built just next to this one (al-Mazraq), which is in the process of being built," he said, adding it will be managed by the Emirati Red Cross.

He said the new camp might be expanded to accommodate more people if needed.

Because of the fighting in Saada province and insecurity in neighbouring areas, aid agencies are managing to reach regularly only a third of the 175,000 displaced people, Davin said.

In addition, aid funds are insufficient.

In September the United Nations called for $23.75 million to help Yemen’s displaced. So far it has raised only half that.

UNICEF, which has raised $3.2 million as part of that appeal, is in discussions with the European Union for another 600,000 euros ($900,000), Davin said. (For more news on humanitarian issues please visit www.alertnet.org; email Alertnetnewsdesk@reuters.com) ((olesya.dmitracova@thomsonreuters.com; +44 20 7542 8051; Reuters Messaging: olesya.dmitracova.reuters.com@reuters.net; Editing by Victoria Main))





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