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At a glance: Yemen

Volunteers bring hygiene awareness to displaced communities in Yemen

© UNICEF Yemen/2010/ Sethna
Fatima Hindi (left), a volunteer working to promote proper hygiene and sanitation in the al-Mazrak displacement camp in northern Yemen, speaks with a camp resident about the need to dispose of animal manure.

By Zahra Sethna

HARADH, Yemen, 25 February 2010 – According to the UN refugee agency, some 250,000 civilians in Yemen have been displaced since internal fighting broke out in this country in 2004 – more than double the number recorded just six months ago.

Ms. Yahya is one the displaced. She and her extended family live in a crowded camp that is home to thousands of people, and they have been displaced twice in the last few months.

Ms. Yahya’s tent is tidy and well organized. Laundry hangs on a line outside, and mattresses are neatly stacked inside.

She also has two water filters to hold the family’s drinking water. The filters are part of a strategy implemented by UNICEF and its partners to ensure that the displaced population has safe drinking water and proper sanitation, which are among the main priorities in a humanitarian emergency.

“We use water to wash everything, even an apple,” Ms. Yahya says proudly.

Water and sanitation standards
Water points have been set up throughout the camp; the water is chlorinated and monitored on a daily basis to ensure that quality standards are met.

Ms. Yahya’s family collects water several times a day. She points out, as well, that they wash their hands regularly and use their latrines, which were built with supplies and training provided by UNICEF.

This awareness of proper hygiene is thanks in part to a team of nearly 40 volunteers that works throughout the camp every day. They go from tent to tent to ensure that camp residents are washing their jerry cans, properly using their water filters and removing pools of stagnant water and other health hazards.

Awareness of disease
“We have to make people aware of the diseases they could face if they don’t focus on proper hygiene – malaria, diarrhoea, skin and eye diseases,” says Ali Salem, who works for al-Khair, a local non-governmental organization that manages the team of volunteers. “We have to work to achieve a healthy community.”  

Recently, one volunteer, Fatima Hindi, stopped her walk through a block of tents to observe a pile of cow manure lying in the path. She addressed the woman who was tending the animals, telling her that the manure would attract flies, which could bring disease. The woman told Ms. Hindi that she would collect and dispose of the manure as soon as possible.

But Ms. Hindi is not just a volunteer. She is a displaced person herself. Part of the reason for the success of the hygiene programme, she says, is that the volunteers understand what it is like to live under these circumstances and can speak with respect and empathy to others in the same situation.

Talking to families
Each volunteer is responsible for 40 tents and is dispatched to talk to families about latrine maintenance, personal hygiene and environmental sanitation.

Although they are encouraged to talk to as many families as possible every day, the volunteer manager, Mr. Salem, stresses the importance of quality over quantity. “It’s better to work in 10 tents and get results,” he tells a group of volunteers, “than work in 50 and get no results.”



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