World leaders are meeting in London today to discuss the deepening humanitarian situation in Yemen. Over half the population does not have access to clean water and Sana’a is predicted to be the first capital city in the world to run out of water. In the village of Al Katfah, in Northern Yemen, Saeedah, 35, and her family are struggling to secure enough water to meet their everyday needs.
Every day at dawn, Saeedah’s eldest daughters travel along dangerous roads to reach the few wells and springs that have not yet run dry. Saeedah’s daughters carry the canisters on their back, tying them around their waists to secure them, and then hiking for several kilometres along treacherous unpaved roads.
Saeedah knows that it’s a long, perilous journey which may take the whole day and that her daughters may only return with 20 litres of water each, but she doesn’t have any other choice:
“I have to take care of my eleven children, including my two sick daughters. I’m married to a deaf man, who is disabled and unable to work, and I have to take care of our animals alone. Our only source of income comes from the money we make selling fertiliser from our livestock. We use this money to make bread.”
Struggle to find clean water
The lack of water, coupled with the poor provision of other basic services, has left the 16,000 men, women and children of Qataber district extremely vulnerable. Water is often collected from streams, which are polluted by waste – and that water is making Saeedah’s children sick, ‘My daughters’ stomachs balloon most of the time and they often have diarrhea from drinking the water. We took one of them to the hospital when she became unwell but had to stop taking her because of the high cost of transportation to Sa’ada city,’ she said.
A recent survey in November 2012 by Oxfam showed that up to 85% of people living in northern villages had a high prevalence of diarrhea and malaria, and some cases of acute respiratory illness.
The water crisis in Qataber district is not a unique situation in the country. The World Bank estimates that more than half of the Yemen population – 13 million people – do not have access to clean and safe water.
Oxfam is helping people to access clean water
In Saaedah’s village, Oxfam is working to install water pumps to ensure that residents have access to a sustainable water supply. Oxfam has provided water and sanitation services to more than 45, 000 people in southern Yemen since 2011, and has helped more than 216,000 people in the north since 2009. This work is having a huge impact on Saeedah and her family.
“I’m glad that my daughters won’t have to spend the whole day struggling to survive while they’re trekking through these risky areas to fetch water. We will now be able to access water through the new pumps.”