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Saudis expand aid effort in Yemen

Items include rice, flour, sugar, salt, oil, beans and other foodstuffs, as well as blankets, tents, carpets

  • Relief aid being loaded onto a truck from a Saudi military aircraft in Marib, Yemen. Saudi Arabia has sent sImage Credit: AP
  • A young Yemeni boy living in a camp for people displaced by the war holds a box of aid from Saudi Arabia in Image Credit: AP
Gulf News

Marib, Yemen (AP) - Saudi Arabia has spent nearly a billion dollars in aid to Yemen and plans with its partners to spend another $1.5 billion.

Saudi relief officials stress their role has nothing to do with the ongoing military fight and say they also try to get their aid into Al Houthi-controlled territory as well.

“They are our neighbours,” said Abdullah Al Wadei, the assistant director of medical and environmental assistance at the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre. “They are human beings first.”

Associated Press journalists recently travelled into Yemen as part of a tour for foreign reporters organised by the Saudi-led coalition to highlight their relief efforts.

The Saudi-led coalition says it wants to increase importing capacity at the ports, but it is not clear if Al Houthis will cooperate. Saudi officials also accuse Al Houthi militants of diverting or stealing aid.

To speed relief, the Saudis have run some 20 aid flights with secondhand American C-130 military transport planes into Marib, about 115km east of Sanaa. The aid has included rice, flour, sugar, salt, oil, beans and other foodstuffs, as well as blankets, tents, carpets and other material for those in need, said Fahad Al Osemy, the director of urgent aid at the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre.

“There’s different people here because there’s more safety in Marib,” Al Osemy said. “You have people coming from Sana’a, Dhamar, and they need more than anyone” as they’ve been forced from their homes.

The Saudis also provide food for Al Houthi-controlled territory in unmarked boxes that get distributed by local partners, he said. From May 2015 until this January, the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center says it has spent $854 million on aid to Yemen, much of it on health care and food. In January, the kingdom announced the coalition will give another $1.5 billion in new humanitarian aid funding for distribution across United Nations agencies and other relief organizations.

Medical care for wounded soldiers backing the internationally recognized government and civilians also remains a priority, Saudi officials said. At a Saudi-funded hospital in Marib, workers make prosthetics for those who have lost limbs in the conflict, their patients evenly split between soldiers and civilians. “The injuries are to the women, the children, the old men and the military,” said Haida Ali Al Nasseri, a 26-year-old woman who works at the hospital’s prosthetic department. “Everyone is coming.”

Nearby, a 24-year-old soldier for Yemen’s government who gave his name as Hamas waited for a prosthetic for his left foot. He said he lost it to a Al Houthi land mine near Sana’a.

Asked about the conflict, he thought for a moment and said: “We don’t need this war, but they kicked us out of our home.”

Makeshift tent camps have sprung up throughout Marib, home to some of Yemen’s 2 million people displaced by the war. Some 112 “spontaneous settlements” are in Marib province alone, about 35 per cent of all those throughout Yemen, according to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.

At one such camp, Yemeni men carrying Kalashnikov rifles, their traditional curved “janbiya” daggers tucked at their waist, greeted Saudi aid workers. Camp residents lined up for the aid, crowding around a desk where a relief worker kept track of the disbursements.

The sun soon set behind the western mountains that mark the war’s front line, bringing armed soldiers and militiamen to the side of visiting journalists.

“It’s not safe here,” they said, guiding the reporters away as night approached.