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Severe water shortage in Yemen

22 October 2019

15 million people affected by severe water shortages, which also increases the risk of disease spread in the country.

The fighting in Yemen forced Malak and Shadi to leave their home. They now live in a camp for internally displaced people, where they rely largely on water transported by trucks. Photo: VFX ADEN/Oxfam

A sharp rise in fuel prices has affected Yemen's water system, forcing people to cut back dramatically on their water use. In several major cities, water systems have been cut off completely.

Fuel is crucial to the supply of clean water in Yemen. Many rely on groundwater pumped up by solar power and fuel. Others, especially people forced to flee their homes, rely on water brought in by diesel-powered trucks.

Aid agencies are also affected
Oxfam has been forced to stop its trucking of water due to rising fuel prices. The water systems Oxfam has installed in the country, which supply water to a quarter of a million people, are currently operating at only 50% of their normal capacity.

In Yemen, access to clean water is a matter of life and death, especially for the more than seven million people who already suffer from malnutrition, making them particularly vulnerable to diseases such as cholera, which is spread in part through dirty water.

The current fuel crisis is the latest example of how economics is being used as a weapon of war in Yemen. Fuel shortages have been an ongoing problem in the country but escalated dramatically last month after increased import restrictions were put in place. In Sana'a, a litre of petrol now costs almost three times more than it did in August.

- For millions of Yemenis already struggling to survive hunger and disease, clean water is a lifeline that is now being cut off," says Muhsin Siddiquey, Oxfam's Country Director in Yemen.

Water scarcity and cholera exacerbated by conflict
Even before the conflict escalated in 2015, Yemen was one of the most water-scarce countries in the world. At least eight water systems installed by Oxfam have previously been damaged or destroyed in fighting, cutting off water supplies to over a quarter of a million people.

Waterborne diseases are common in Yemen. The country has previously suffered one of the worst cholera outbreaks in modern history. Since April 2017, over two million suspected cases of cholera have been reported, and over 3,700 people have lost their lives to the disease.

Oxfam in Yemen
Oxfam has been working in Yemen for over 30 years, the work we do now includes ensuring that people forced to flee because of the conflict have access to clean water and sanitation. We carry out hygiene campaigns where we disseminate information about cholera symptoms and how to prevent the spread of the disease. We distribute hygiene kits and cash grants to people who have been forced to leave their homes. We also support people to find jobs and generate income, for example with training, support for small entrepreneurs and materials to enable people to grow food.