The Abyan Governorate in south Yemen has huge tourist and agricultural potential, with a 300km coastline that, according to the Government’s tourism department, yields fish of the finest quality. But Abyan is also the scene of a humanitarian crisis brought on by a stagnating economy, exacerbated by conflict and a collapse in public services like health and education.
Fighting has lasted for more than a year. In May, it intensified when the Yemeni armed forces launched a military operation against insurgents allegedly linked to Al-Qaida. The Yemeni armed forces declared victory in June.
Civilians, especially women and children, suffered heavily during the fighting, and humanitarian partners say the conflict affected the whole southern region.
In response to the crisis, the humanitarian community in Yemen developed the Abyan and South Response Plan (ASRP), which seeks US$92 million to meet the needs of over 320,000 vulnerable people over the next six months. It aims to deliver life-saving support for displaced people returning home and all those affected by the conflict.
The Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has now approved $8.5 million to cover critical gaps and life-saving humanitarian needs identified in the ASRP.
Francis Battal, OCHA Yemen Emergency Response Fund Manager, said the CERF funding would be used to treat severe acute malnutrition among children under age 5; provide emergency water and sanitation assistance and reproductive health services; prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence; pay for household items and emergency shelter repair kits; respond to disease outbreaks; and eliminate the impact of land mines for people in Aden and Lahj Governorates.
Battal added: “Without this funding, it’s difficult to know how we could have provided the most basic life-saving services to people who left their homes in terror and have now returned to a very difficult situation.”
Two months after the Yemeni government declared that it had regained control, Abyan still has some of the greatest humanitarian needs in Yemen. Thousands of people have returned home to find that social services are severely disrupted and the local economy has completely broken down. Many people no longer have any means of making a living and rely entirely on aid to survive. Others still live with host communities or shelter in temporary accommodation. And the infrastructure suffered massive damage.
“We never expected to see such destruction,” said Abyan Governor Jamal al-Aqil, speaking in June while his office was still protected by sandbags. “We will have to start from scratch. Everything here is a priority.”
A recent assessment showed that the most urgent needs for humanitarian aid were health care, food, and water and sanitation facilities. Reports of human rights abuses prompted calls for respect for international humanitarian law and the protection of civilians, smooth and safe access for aid workers, and humanitarian aid.
There are tensions between displaced people and host communities, and the education system hardly functions. Migrants, refugees and asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa continue to arrive in Abyan, driven by conflict and food insecurity in their home countries. Continuing violence is making the situation even more complex; on 4 August, a suicide bomber in Ja'ar village killed 37 people and injured 45 others.
But the CERF funding, together with other donations, mean that the ASRP is already 25 per cent funded, which rises to 64 per cent if pledges are included.