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Somali refugees in Yemen gain from UNV volunteer's expertise

Somalian refugees gather at a WFP distribution centre in Yemen. (UNV)Somalian refugees gather at a WFP distribution centre in Yemen. (UNV)
18 June 2008

Aden, Yemen: With 20,000 new mouths to feed this year alone, one UNV volunteer working with the World Food Programme (WFP) in Yemen plays a vital part in managing a little-reported emergency.

Continued conflict in Somalia has led to a massive influx of refugees into neighbouring countries: Yemen alone expects to receive well over 24,000 during 2008. WFP food assistance is targeted primarily at the 9,000 people, mainly Somalis, in Yemen's refugee camps.

In charge is Atheer Najim, a UNV volunteer tasked with implementing the WFP refugee operation. Under the supervision of the WFP Deputy Country Director, Mr. Najim heads the Aden sub-office, organizing food deliveries and orders, monitoring stocks, and managing logistics operations. He also liaises with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and various NGOs, covers financial and administrative tasks, and checks on the refugees' living conditions.

Another part of Mr. Najim's role is to oversee distribution to targeted beneficiaries. School feeding is carried out at the Kharaz and Al-Basateen camps to enable 2,500 schoolchildren to continue education. Supplementary feeding in support of malnourished children, as well as pregnant and lactating mothers and other vulnerable people, is also conducted at both camps.

Iraqi national Mr. Najim describes two key challenges in his job. "The first difficulty lies in the global price hikes in food and oil," he says. "The available resources won't buy the planned food quantity. Second is the security situation in the locations we work in and the country as a whole."

Dealing with the crisis involves high levels of coordination. WFP is responsible for the procurement and transport of food to warehouses in Aden and Kharaz. It also provides high-energy biscuits to new arrivals at Yemen's shores. The people are then transported to Maifa’a Reception Centre where they are hosted for three days before being transported to the camps. UNHCR is responsible for the registration and verification of the beneficiaries and NGOs are responsible for further food distribution. Mr. Najim monitors the NGOs to ensure they have sufficient capacity to operate effectively.

There are over 117,000 registered refugees in Yemen, mostly Somalis. Many settle in Yemeni towns, working as casual labourers while others hope to find work in the Persian Gulf oil sector. "The increasing influx of refugees in Yemen causes a great burden on its already fragile economy and limited resources," Mr. Najim notes. "Unemployment and inflation are very high, job opportunities very low, water resources are a problem, especially in the northern part of the country, and integration is very difficult."

However, he adds, in addition to UNHCR's key task of saving lives, WFP involvement helps suppress food prices for the Yemeni population. "The operation takes a great load off the government as well in terms of preventing huge numbers of refugees leaving the camp and looking for jobs in the cities," says Mr. Najim. Furthermore, WFP concentrates on reducing female illiteracy by enrolling girls in 1,300 selected schools.

Originally an engineer, Mr. Najim has been working on relief efforts in Yemen since 1993. He admits that his work as a UNV volunteer there is very challenging. "You need a lot of patience, the skill to coordinate with a lot of actors, the ability to convince, and lots of report writing," he says. "Anxiety and stress are profound when there are shortfalls in commodities or food delays. But the teamwork spirit is great because of the everyday collaboration, coordination and communication with a diverse group of counterparts."

UNV is administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)