Exclusive: Wash your hands? Luxury for millions of Yemenis

US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS/AFP) — Every morning, Mohammed, 11, rides his donkey to fetch water in Hajjah, near Sanaa. As elsewhere in Yemen, its region lacks precious liquid, especially in these times of fight against the new coronavirus.

To meet the daily needs of the whole family, he travels with his sister up to three kilometers to obtain water, which is too often unsanitary.

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There, the two children take their places in a long line with old plastic bottles of engine oil in their hands, which they will fill with water drawn from a well using a hose of questionable cleanliness.

“In the morning, I prepare the donkey. Then, at 7:30 am, I go to get water and I go back and forth until 10:00 am,” said AFP Mohammed.

As the world tries to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, experts are adamant that confining and washing hands with soap remains the best way to protect yourself and others.

Yemen has not registered any cases of infection, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). But NGOs fear a catastrophe if the pandemic arrives in this country, the poorest of the Arabian peninsula, already facing the worst humanitarian crisis in the world according to the UN since the armed intervention of Saudi Arabia and its allies in 2015.

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This Ryad-led coalition supports forces loyal to the internationally recognized government that is fighting the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels who have controlled whole parts of the north of the country and the capital Sana’a for years.

“The coronavirus represents a new challenge for Yemen”, alerted the NGO Oxfam on Monday, citing “the limitation of the movements of certain humanitarian workers”, “the serious shortages of drugs, equipment and personnel” as well as “access to drinking water”.

“After five years of death, disease, displacement and the growing threat of a global pandemic, Yemenis desperately need a ceasefire,” said Muhsin Siddiquey, Oxfam director for the Yemen.

– “Catastrophe” –

The war has left tens of thousands of people dead, mostly civilians, according to various NGOs. More than three million Yemenis live crammed into IDP camps and about 24 million, more than two-thirds of the population, are in need of humanitarian assistance, the UN estimates.

File AFP

Threatened with famine, the country is also regularly hit by epidemics of dengue fever and cholera because of a dying health system and the scarcity of drinking water.

After five years of war, the Yemenis “do not have access to drinking water, some do not have access to soap,” insists Caroline Seguin, local program manager for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

“We can recommend washing your hands, but what if you have nothing to do it?”

“We are already seeing the catastrophe in Europe, which is supposed to have the best health systems in the world. In Yemen, where this system is collapsing, with many camps for the displaced, a lack of hygiene and potable water, this can be a real disaster, “she said.

Houthi rebels have announced measures to prevent the spread of the pandemic in the territories they control, with the closure of schools or the suspension of UN flights to Sanaa, the only ones allowed in this blockaded country coalition aerial.

– Cholera –

On the fifth anniversary of the start of coalition operations, UNICEF estimates that 18 million Yemenis, including 9.2 million children, do not have direct access to “drinking water, sanitation and hygiene “and that only a third of the population is connected to running water.

“Yemen continues to be one of the poorest countries in water in the world. Access to drinking water has been seriously affected by years of underinvestment and the conflict,” said AFP. Bismarck Swangin, UNICEF Communications Director for Yemen.

However, “access to drinking water is essential to prevent the spread of water-borne diseases,” he said.

In 2017, Yemen suffered the largest epidemic of cholera and acute diarrhea in the world, killing more than 2,000 people.

The Haradh medical center in the Hajjah region sees nearly 300 patients every day, most of them for “diseases transmitted by water that is unfit for drinking,” emergency doctor Mohammed Akil told AFP.

“The already fragile health system is operating at 50% of its capacity,” said the WHO in Yemen, in a statement sent to AFP.

It ensures that health facilities will be “overwhelmed” in the event of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country.


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The article is written and prepared by our foreign editors from different countries around the world – material edited and published by Ordo News staff in our US newsroom press.