Camp fires... Pain compounds the tragedy of displacement in Yemen

English - Tuesday 22 November 2022 الساعة 11:28 am
Al-Khawkha, NewsYemen, Ahmed Dawoud:

Words mixed with sadness, oppression and tears were uttered by "Issa", one of the displaced people in Al-Jisha camp in Al-Khawkhah district, south of Al-Hodeidah.

We found him looking at his tent, which had been burned, and at times turning his eyes away from his children and family members, who were left in the open.  The burning of the tent that had sheltered him since his displacement and his escape from the oppression of the terrorist Houthi militia about 6 years ago.

Issa says: We lost everything, even my important papers, my identity card and others, were ashes. My family members have nothing but the clothes they wear, even my documents. Nothing is left of them.  I have lost everything that proves that I am a human being. I have lost everything.. I wish to die rather than live in this way and this oppression.

The displaced "Issa" cannot forget what happened to him on Saturday, November 12, after the fire consumed about 60 temporary tents used by the displaced families in Al-Jisha camp.

Miraculously escaped

On that fateful day, as described by the displaced "Issa", a massive fire broke out and quickly spread among the tents and houses of the displaced, built of straw, wood and tents, prompting many families to flee for fear of being injured, leaving their belongings and all their needs inside those violent fires.

The large proximity of the tents to each other in the camp helped a lot, in addition to the winds that were blowing, in the spread and expansion of the fire, amid the inability of the families to extinguish it.

Displaced Issa told NewsYemen: We were surprised that the fire spread to our tent, which was built of straw and wood, and the fire spread very quickly, which prompted me to leave the tent with my wife's children so that no harm would happen to them without us being able to take our important and necessary things.

He added: The world darkened in my face that fateful night, and I found myself homeless in the open with my family members, without food, clothes, or even our official papers, which were devoured by the fire.

The heartbreak began on "Issa"'s face as he looked at what was left of his tent, after the heartbreak of displacement that he experienced after parting with his home 6 years ago due to the injustice and brutality of the Houthi militias that destroyed crops and offspring.

Displaced Issa says: I could not watch my family members sleeping in the open, so I distributed them to some tents that survived the fire in order to sleep while waiting for solutions from relief and support agencies.

A tragic situation.. and a difficult night

 Al-Jisha camp in Al-Khawkhah is one of the largest displacement camps on the western coast, which contains about 1,200 families from the people of Al-Hodeidah governorate fleeing the military operations and the dangers of targeting their residential areas in different districts of Al-Hodeidah and the Al-Tahami plain.

The camp was subjected to a sudden fire, which caused dozens of tents and temporary housing to be consumed, amidst indescribable suffering, especially since the families were left in the open after losing their tents and private property.

The fire of Al-Jisha camp is not the first that the IDP camps in Al-Khawkha have witnessed. Since the beginning of this year 2022, about 5 fires have been recorded inside the camps, causing a lot of material damage, in addition to human injuries, including children.

According to statistics, the fires in the IDP camps in Al-Khawkha destroyed more than 200 tents and houses or small nests. More than 2,000 people live in those small houses, most of them children and women.

Great suffering is experienced by the displaced families according to their difficult conditions since their forced displacement and expulsion from their homes, as these camps are always exposed to disasters, starting from rain and torrential rains that destroy many of their tents, all the way to fires and the great damage they cause.

Lack of safety tools

With the outbreak of every fire in the displacement camps in Hodeidah and the rest of the liberated Yemeni governorates, the most important question arises about the reason for the lack of safety tools in all those gatherings that are vulnerable to disasters and fires due to the construction of those tents, nests and wooden huts.

The spread of the fire inside the camp was rapid and made it difficult for the displaced, who tried hard to extinguish it at the beginning of the incident.  The presence of fire extinguishers, even in a limited number, in the camp would have made a great difference in limiting the expansion and spread of fire, and in reducing human and material losses.

One of the displaced people spoke to "Newsyemen": the citizens rushed to extinguish the fire before it expanded and devoured all the tents and wooden huts inhabited by the displaced families, explaining that the extinguishing process was primitive and random, without even knowing how to extinguish the fires.

He added: Just as the organizations come to provide food and shelter aid, we hope that the civil defense departments  go to the camps and conduct rehabilitation courses for families on how to deal with disasters and fires, and hand over the camp supervisors fire extinguishers to be used in the event of accidents.

Combine efforts

 The head of the Executive Unit in Hodeidah Governorate, Jamal Mashrai, said in a statement to "NewsYemen": The moment the fire broke out, the unit's management was notified by its representative, and immediately the concerned authorities were contacted, who quickly sent more than 10 "water tankers" from the military brigades stationed near  camp, in addition to communicating with the Taiba Foundation and Green Ocean Company, which supported the firefighting operation.

He added that these disasters must not be repeated, and the concerned authorities must quickly provide special supplies for the camps, which serve as a civil defense that helps them mitigate the disasters that may befall them.

Marib fires are at the top of the list

Marib governorate is the largest governorate in which the displacement camps are located, at the country level.  According to official statistics, as of 2022, there are more than two million displaced persons, distributed among 197 camps within the city of Marib and the surrounding countryside.

Most of the displaced families live in flammable cotton tents and unsafe nets. They are highly vulnerable to fires without any solutions or response from humanitarian organizations to the distress calls directed by the Executive Unit and the displaced regarding the provision of the necessary safety tools.

According to statistics issued by the IDP Camps Administration, on the number of fires that occurred in the camps during the period from 2020 to 2022, they amounted to about 261 shelters distributed among the displacement camps in the various liberated Yemeni governorates.  Those fires killed 23 people, and injured 32, most of them women and children.

The statistics indicated that 66 shelters were completely burnt in 2020, including 59 tents and 7 nets. These fires caused the death of 5 civilians, including three children and two women, in addition to the injury of 12 people, including eight children, three women, a man and another elderly person.

And the statistics indicated that in 2021, 102 incidents of total burning of shelters were recorded, including 93 tents, 6 nets, and 4 caravans.  These fires killed four children and two women, and injured nine children, a woman and a man.

From January to October 2022, 93 shelters were documented, two of them partially and the rest completely, including 81 tents, six nets and five caravans, in addition to a popular house.  As a result, 14 displaced people, including eight children, four women and a man, died, and 11 children and five women and men were injured.

In addition to the human losses of those fires, the executive unit of the camps for the displaced recorded huge material losses, amounting to millions, among various property and electrical appliances.

Frequent causes

 As for the causes of fires in the camps, the supervisors confirm that they are due to multiple reasons, foremost of which are electrical contact or the explosion of domestic gas cylinders, as well as the random connection of current, not to mention the negligence in some families who leave their children playing with ignition tools.  In addition, many families cook inside these tents, which causes frequent fires.

The cause of the large losses is also due to the crowding of the camps and the quality of the shelter used, which is often tents, nests and wooden huts that are highly flammable and spread between the camps and cannot be easily extinguished without the presence of safety and civil defense tools.

Little aid

Many of the displaced people affected by the fires in the camps for the displaced confirmed that the response of international and local organizations is very weak, as what is provided to them after the disaster hardly compensates them for the most basic needs that they lost in the fire.

The displaced "Issa" asked us a question during the conversation by saying: The organizations that intervene provide only a food basket or a small amount of money that is not even sufficient to secure what we lost in the fire, explaining that what those affected by the fires receive does not represent anything in comparison to what they lose in the accident of tools and belongings.  .

According to supervisors in the displacement camps, the affected families receive only small sums of money in addition to providing simple food and shelter materials. However, securing tents and new shelter for them requires a lot of time, which makes the afflicted live in difficult conditions and some of them sleep in the open for days.

Many families affected by the recent fire in Al-Khawkha are waiting for any humanitarian gesture from organizations and relief agencies to help them secure new homes to live in instead of the burnt ones.  In light of the difficulty of returning to their real homes from which they were displaced, in light of the continued control of the Houthi militias over their residential areas or because of the continuous bombing or the mines that were planted near their homes with the aim of taking revenge on them.