Yemen floods: remembering a forgotten disaster

تم النشر: 28 ديسمبر 2008 0:00 CET

Increased donor support is vital to allow the Yemen Red Crescent to bring continued assistance to the survivors of flash floods, caused by torrential rains which lasted 36 hours and which killed more than 70 people and left 20,000 to 25,000 people homeless at the end of October, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). The revised emergency appeal launched by the IFRC on 5 December for 2 million Swiss francs (1.3 million Euro/1.6 million US dollars) has received only 41 per cent coverage to date.

“If sufficient donations do not come in, we will face serious difficulties. We fear that we will not be able to extend our support of the Yemen Red Crescent operation beyond the coming weeks,” notes Tenna Mengistu, IFRC country representative in Yemen. “This disaster was one of the worst the country has ever known, because the devastation was so extensive. Not only were people’s homes destroyed, but the topsoil in the fields was washed away, sheep, goats, cattle and poultry drowned, and beehives and date palms were destroyed. These people need long-term help to rebuild their homes and livelihoods.”

The IFRC appeal is meant to finance the distribution of food, hygiene articles, kitchen utensils, clothing, bedding and mosquito nets to 10,500 of the most affected people (1,500 families) over twelve months. In addition, the funds are to finance school supplies for children, the replenishment of Yemen Red Crescent emergency stocks and supplementary training in disaster management for Red Crescent staff and volunteers.

Hundreds of volunteers mobilized quickly

“In spite of extremely difficult access in the first days following the disaster, the Yemen Red Crescent has been exemplary in quickly mobilizing hundreds of volunteers to help evacuate people, provide first aid and distribute essential relief items to survivors,” explains Steve McAndrew, leader of the IFRC field assessment and coordination team in Yemen. “With their help, we have been able to provide affected communities with culturally appropriate assistance, such as hygiene articles, clothing and kitchen utensils, which were bought locally.”

A major problem remains access since the population is scattered over a wide territory and some affected groups may still not have been reached, in particular Bedouin and mountain villages. “We are concentrating our help on smaller towns and villages which have not yet received assistance,” says Steve McAndrew, “and we are using every possible means to reach them, including trucks and donkeys. In certain cases, people come to our distribution points from their villages and take the goods back with them, on foot.”

Good morale despite circumstances

“It’s incredible to see how good the morale of people is, in spite of the circumstances. They are very well organized, with very strong family networks and coping mechanisms,” he adds.

The disaster and incoming assistance has helped the Yemen Red Crescent set up a fully operational branch office in Seyoun, with new staff, equipment and a warehouse. Sixty additional volunteers have also being recruited, including women and girls.

Housing, which is a government responsibility, remains a priority. Authorities are making plans to meet the rehabilitation needs of 600,000 people over the coming months. Following a national assessment, the government will launch a large appeal to meet long-term needs, early in 2009, according to Tenna Mengistu. “In the current international context, this has become a forgotten disaster. But we shouldn’t forget the crisis the moment the media goes away. The real work is going on and the people still need help for a while,” he says. “We must continue our operation until next November. These communities are counting on us and we must not let them down.”