When water is scarce

Humanitarian response keeps most vulnerable communities in yemen from the brink by providing water, sanitation and hygiene supplies

Abdulmajeed Alturki
Muhamasheen children, Sawan Street, Sana’a
UNICEF/YEMEN/2020/Alghabri
13 August 2020

Some neighbourhoods in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, are home to the Muhamasheen community, Yemen’s most marginalized population group. Many of the residents of these communities do not have regular work, the ones that do often earn less than $40 USD per month. Their vulnerability continues to be exacerbated by the long conflict and subsequent economic crisis. Without a stable water supply and unable to buy soap the rapid spread of COVID-19 is having a catastrophic impact on their lives.

 

The fear of COVID-19

Hamid Yousif Al-Hammadi, 41 years old, is married and a father of five children. He is a janitor and lives with his family in workers’ city, Sawan neighbourhood.

Like the rest of the people in workers’ city, Hamid suffers from an unreliable water supply and lack of water tanks because the salary of janitors is hardly enough to pay for house rent. His children are often malnourished as food has become scarce. Hamid often need to spend his small salary on medicine for his sick wife, many times he has had to take out loans with the nearby pharmacy.  

Hameed Yousif ‎Alhamadi, 41-‎year-old‎ with his family, Sawan Street, Sana’a
UNICEF/YEMEN/2020/Alghabri
Hameed Yousif ‎Alhamadi, 41-‎year-old‎ with his family, Sawan Street, Sana’a

Hamid was unable to enroll his children to school, except only one daughter who studies at UNICEF’s Modern Al-Etihad School that provides free teaching and school materials.

Hamid says, “My young children are the ones who are in charge of fetching water after we received support from UNICEF, bringing the water supply closer after it has been located about one kilometre away.”

Hameed’s children; Fares, Sultan, Hayam, and Angam, Sawan Street, Sana’a
UNICEF/YEMEN/2020/Alghabri
Hameed’s children; Fares, Sultan, Hayam, and Angam, Sawan Street, Sana’a

Hamid adds, “We have no chronic or infectious diseases, but we are afraid of the Coronavirus, and we consider the lack of infection a challenge. So, we put chlorine in the water and wash our hands thoroughly with water and soap to avoid infection with the virus and we don’t have any other precautions other than chlorine. However, we don’t wear masks or gloves because we don’t have them, and quarantine means that we will die of starvation. We hope we will get cleaning kits and detergents to maintain health and protect our children and others from the dangers of Coronavirus.”

 

Daily risk

Fatima, 30 years old, is Hamid’s wife. She says, “We have been living in this room for six years, and we have no water, but we have a female neighbour who buys a water tank, and my children go out to collect water by filling any pot from the tank and that exposes them to harm, and they come back with empty hands.”

“I send my children to Al-Nasr roundabout, near our house to fill some plastic gallons with water, and I am afraid about them because of cars as they are still young children. They go to fill water gallons from the source of public water that was brought to a near place by UNICEF after it was one hour far from our house. Then they look for a small wheelbarrow to transport water to the house for use in cleaning and washing children, their clothes, and hands well.” 

Said Fatima Yahia, 30-year-‎old
Hameed’s wife, Fatima Yahia ‎Sagheer, 30-year-‎old‎, Sawan Street, Sana’a
UNICEF/YEMEN/2020/Alghabri
Hameed’s wife, Fatima Yahia ‎Sagheer, 30-year-‎old‎, Sawan Street, Sana’a

Fatima fears that one of her children may be infected with the Coronavirus, so she uses Dettol to sterilize their hands before and after each meal. Also, she uses liquid tide that is full of chlorine after mixing it with water to clean the bathroom and wipe the walls and door handles.

 

Isolation is impossible

Ramzi Ahmed Abdullah, 29 years old, is married and a father of three children. He lives in workers’ city, Sawan neighbourhood. 

Ramzi has a small cart to sell boiled potatoes to face life, pay house rent, and any other emergency situations.   When Ramzi’s daughter gets sick, he can’t take her to the hospital because he can’t afford to pay the cost of medicines, so he takes a pain killer injection from the pharmacy to soothe his daughter’s pain.

Ramzi Ahmed Abdullah with his family, 29 years old‎, Sawan Street, Sana’a
UNICEF/YEMEN/2020/Alghabri
Ramzi Ahmed Abdullah with his family, 29 years old‎, Sawan Street, Sana’a

Ramzi has suffered a lot from water scarcity before UNICEF has brought the public water source to a near place to workers’ city. Ramzi was going to water source next to Al-Awdi factory that would require an hour and a half to fill in four water gallons with the capacity of 20 liters, and he would come back again to fill them in case they needed to do the laundry. 

Ramzi adds, “I could earn money and pay the house rent easily before the war, but now the rent has been doubled and the landlord gets extremely loud when I can’t pay for the rent on time.”

Ramzi Ahmed Abdullah while he is working‎, Sawan Street, Sana’a
UNICEF/YEMEN/2020/Alghabri
Ramzi Ahmed Abdullah while he is working‎, Sawan Street, Sana’a

Ramzi works from 07:00 a.m. Until 07:00 p.m. and comes back with the equivalent of USD 3. It is all that he earns from selling potatoes and such an amount is not enough for providing food to the family and meeting their requirements. Sometimes he comes back with half of the potatoes because people are no longer going out of their homes and afraid of buying from street vendors because of Coronavirus. Therefore, he couldn’t enroll his daughters at school and was unable to provide for the medicine of his wife, Shukria Nasser Haider, 27 years old, who has been suffering from her spinal cord for seven years, in addition to chronic anemia. 

Ramzi got sick and suffered from a severe fever and cough for eight days, but he was able to overcome his illness by using drugs and intravenous solutions, in addition to the use of disinfectants to wash door handles and continuous washing of clothes and wiping off the walls. After his recovery, he resumed his work on his potato cart, wearing masks and gloves, as a precautionary measure against COVID-19 infection, because he cannot stand home lockdown as a quarantine as it means death out of starvation.

Ramzi’s wife, Shukria Mansour Haidar, 27-‎year-old, Sawan Street, Sana’a
UNICEF/YEMEN/2020/Alghabri
Ramzi’s wife, Shukria Mansour Haidar, 27-‎year-old, Sawan Street, Sana’a

Shukria, Ramzi’s wife says, “My daughter was infected with a severe fever for eight days, and we treated her with intravenous solutions at home because I can’t pay for the hospital bill. She recovered after this period, and I have felt that she was sick with Corona because the symptoms were like the Coronavirus symptoms that we heard about.”

Shukria sterilizes the hands of her children when they come back from the grocery store with soap and water and then sprays them with the sterilizers. Masks and gloves are not being worn by anyone other than her husband when he gets out of the house.  

These families are part of Yemen’s most vulnerable communities. The humanitarian response keeps them from the brink by providing water, sanitation and hygiene supplies. With a funding crisis services are already being scaled back, a heartbreaking prospect in the middle of a pandemic.