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Yemen's strikes against Shiite rebels leave 30,000 refugees

UN official John Holmes visits Yemen Thursday to highlight thehumanitarian crisis as concerns grow about a potential haven for AlQaeda.

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In early September, the international humanitarian community in Yemen appealed for $23.7 million to confront the Saada crisis. As of Oct. 6, only 6 percent had been received.

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Carlos Geha of the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says donors are hesitant to contribute due to stories of limited ability to get the donations to the majority of IDPs. Furthermore, the crisis in Yemen is rarely a first priority for donors, he adds.

"We are still concerned that the operation as a whole is not well funded and the needs are much bigger than our capacity at the moment, especially if the conflict continues," Chedrawi says.

Further complicating matters is that northern Yemen is a tribal area. After an IDP camp was established in Amran governorate, heads of the local tribe, also known as sheikhs, forced the UN to remove the tents, Mr. Rehman said.

Shmouri says that the sheikhs don't want IDP camps established on their land because Houthi rebels are amongst those who seek shelter. It's impossible to determine who is a civilian and who has allegiances with the Houthis because no male in northern Yemen leaves his home without a weapon, he adds.

Yemen already suffers from a southern secessionist movement threatening its weak central government and has been touted by many as a new homeland for Al Qaeda.

The war in Saada "causes more humanitarian suffering and distracts the government from other issues," Christopher Boucek of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and author of the recent report titled "Yemen: Avoiding a Downward Spiral" told the Monitor.

"The Yemeni government has limited capacity to deal with multiple concurrent crises, and Saada is totally dominating the agenda right now," he notes.

The government is "making the issues of establishing [IDP] camps a first priority," says Abdul Sallam, a spokesperson at Yemen's Ministry of Health, which is in charge of humanitarian assistance in Saada.

"We have a dialogue with the UN agencies and NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] and we work with them 24 hours a day. If they find any problem we help facilitate a solution," Mr. Sallam says.

However, outsiders have their doubts about the government's efficiency in helping civilians.

Human Rights Watch's deputy Middle East director, Joe Stork, said in an Oct. 5 statement: "The government needs to help aid agencies reach civilians, not throw up obstacles in their way."

Journalist Shmouri adds, "The government is very exhausted. Those who help the citizens of Saada are the other citizens of Saada."