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A WASH success story: from a swamp to a safe passage for children

Yahya Najmuddin with his children outside their house.

Story by Mohammed Al-Ghaberi and Malak Shaher

Dhamar, Yemen, 10 October 2018 - Yahya Najmuddin is a father of four living in Harran city in Dhamar governorate. His eyes are filled with sadness when he remembers the story of a girl who fell in a swamp in front of his house last year. His children, who were playing outside, saw the little girl and screamed for help. Luckily, she was rescued and immediately sent to the hospital. The child survived but the inhabitants of Harran feared this kind of incident could happen again.

For a long time, the swamp of Harran, a consequence of poor sanitation infrastructure, was not only a safety issue for the children who played nearby, but also a source of contaminated water, a risk factor for epidemic diseases such as cholera. In the town, there were no existing sewerage systems nor cesspits, so the population disposed of the waste water directly to the swamps. In addition, due to the lack of water networks, people were relying on private water trucking, another unsafe water source. “The smell of the swamp was unbearable and I was constantly worried that my children would get infected with cholera,” Yahya recalls.

Photo taken by the people of Harran of the sewerage system before intervention.

In order to improve the situation and ensure access to safe water in Dhamar, UNICEF worked in 2017 and 2018 with the Local Water and Sanitation Foundation (LWSF) to install a sanitation system in Harran and rehabilitate the water tanks to eliminate the sources of contaminated water in a sustainable way and prevent cholera from spreading further. This cooperation started when the Director of LWSF, Taha al-Hindi, saw one day “a little girl with a piece of bread in one hand playing by the swamp.” That day, he decided to act and approached UNICEF for support.

With the support of the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) and the German development bank KfW, UNICEF equipped the affected households with a comprehensive sewerage system linked to a major drainage line, discharging waste water to the Dhamar sewage treatment plant. The project also included the establishment of sewer access manholes to allow the technical staff to maintain the system on a regular basis. Furthermore, in 2018, UNICEF installed a solar-based water pipe network to ensure safe access to drinkable water, one of the three innovative water projects in Dhamar city supported by UNICEF.

The Harran Sewerage System after intervention.

“Contamination of drinking water was a real concern for us and the risk was particularly high in Harran neighborhood. We wanted to make sure that the root causes of this issue would be eliminated so that we can provide the people in the area, and especially the children, with a safe environment.” highlights Mohammed Mohammed, UNICEF water, hygiene and sanitation (WASH) Specialist.

In total, the project benefited to 20,000 people in Harran, including Yahya and his family, as one of UNICEF's WASH interventions to end cholera in Yemen. Based on the results and lesson learned from this project, UNICEF is now implementing similar projects in other parts of Yemen.

Yahya is grateful that the neighborhood of Harran, which used to be a swamp, became a safe passage for the inhabitants, and mostly for the children in the area, who can now go to school instead of fetching water. "When there was no water, my children and most of the children of the neighborhood stopped going to school to help their mothers to fetch water from charity water tanks,” says Yahya. “They are now back to school and we finally feel safe.” Yahya concludes.



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