ATLANTA, Georgia — Yemen’s ongoing civil war, beginning in 2015, has brought about several challenges in the country, contributing to one of the most severe humanitarian crises. As a result, poverty rates remain high and 80% of citizens rely on humanitarian aid for survival. The lack of access to clean water in parts of the country poses a severe public health threat across Yemen, which has only worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, UNICEF is helping to improve access to clean water in Yemen through several initiatives.
Yemen’s Water Crisis
The Atlantic Council reports that throughout the past decade, Yemen faced one of the worst water crises worldwide, with only 50% of the population in cities and 40% of citizens in rural regions having access to clean water. Before the civil war, the government implemented policies funding “water-heavy cash crops” and making groundwater and irrigation cheap. These practices put a severe strain on the water supply. In addition, inferior planning and infrastructure neglect affected dams and sewage run-off led to the contamination of much of the groundwater. During the war, further limitations in water supply caused issues growing crops, and as a result, there was a spike in food prices.
The Center for Disaster Philanthropy reports that Yemen does not have any rivers and faces the possibility of having no water at all. It also cites a UNICEF report specifying that at least 50,000 children die a year due to “preventable diseases.” Because the crisis in Yemen has created severe economic challenges, more people could end up in poverty without urgent intervention.
Impact of COVID-19 on the Water Crisis
According to Vision of Humanity, Yemen faced an increase in severe flooding and torrential rain, heightening the risk of water-borne diseases. The lack of access to clean water during the pandemic not only increases the risk of citizens contracting COVID-19 but also other deadly illnesses such as cholera and dengue fever. Since many of Yemen’s citizens cannot obtain quality healthcare, the country will face difficulties recovering from this significant public health threat.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, access to clean water is more important than ever. However, water supply costs became more expensive, meaning that children and women now walk further to collect water, “exposing them to unsafe areas, unsanitary water and rendering them more vulnerable to” violence.
UNICEF’s Assistance in Yemen
Throughout the Yemen civil war, UNICEF has provided aid to the most vulnerable citizens. UNICEF provided more clean water to wells to help mitigate the spread of cholera. However, UNICEF’s recent work to improve access to clean water focused on alleviating the impact of COVID-19. The organization focuses on providing soap and other hygiene products and distributing enough drinking water for citizens. UNICEF’s efforts also include rehabilitating water infrastructure.
In June 2021, UNICEF reported that it provided “five water pumps for five wells” within vulnerable Yemeni communities. UNICEF also created a COVID-19 pandemic response team to provide additional water pumps for wells and the essential resources to keep hospitals sanitized to prevent further virus outbreaks. These efforts mitigate the spread of both COVID-19 and other water-borne diseases.
Introduction of Solar Farms
According to the World Bank, Yemen also lacks electricity. Solar power became widely used in at least 159 schools across Yemen to improve access to clean water in 2019. As a renewable source, solar power is beneficial, holding the potential to saves the lives of millions of children.
UNICEF built solar farms for Yemen to incorporate more sustainable practices to increase the clean water supply. Solar farms produce sufficient energy necessary for water pumps to transport enough safe water. Engineers that helped create these solar farms indicated that citizens can now obtain clean water whenever they want or need it.
UNICEF’s recent efforts to increase access to safe water are critical to mitigating global poverty by providing more citizens the opportunity to obtain essential resources.
– Cristina Velaz