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One Yemeni mother’s plea to the world: ‘We need water urgently’

This is the well that Aisha and others from her village walk to so they can gather water for their families. The well is about an hour from their homes.Photo by Ameen Al-Ghaberi/Gabreez

Years of conflict have left more than 75 percent of Yemen’s people in need of humanitarian and protection assistance.

With a cholera outbreak ravaging war-torn Yemen, Jameela’s daily challenge to get enough water for her family cannot be overstated, and she is by no means alone.

“We need water urgently,” she says. “We need other things but water is the most important now.”

For three years the US has supported Saudi Arabia's military offensive in Yemen, and the consequences have been devastating: more than 22 million of Yemen's 29 million people are now in need of humanitarian aid and protection. They are suffering from hunger, lack of medical care, and a dire need for water. And now, an outbreak of cholera and acute watery diarrhea has spread to nearly every governate in the country, causing more than one million suspected cases of the deadly disease since it surfaced last April.

Within six months, Yemen’s cholera crisis had become the largest in the world as the war decimated health, water, and sanitation systems, and severely hampered efforts to beat back the outbreak. A waterborne disease, cholera can kill within hours if a stricken person does not get adequate care. More than 2,200 people have already lost their lives to it. Clean drinking water is vital in fighting cholera’s spread.

But for Jameela, and many others, getting water of any sort is no easy task. The nearest source for her is about two kilometers, or 1.2 miles, from her villagea trek she makes several times a day, often with her daughter and with a donkey strapped with jugs.

“This water isn’t clean, but we don’t have any other options,” says Jameela, a widow who has no source of income and is struggling to care for her five children. The family lives in a single room in the arid mountains of the Khamer district. “We don’t have money to buy clean water.” 

In another village in the same district, Aisha, too, struggles to find enough water for herself and her  five children. Recently widowed, Aisha now carries the full responsibility for her entire household--food, clothing, her children’s school expenses, and, perhaps the biggest burden of all, water.

“We walk for two hours [roundtrip] to reach the valley and get water from the well,” she says. “We bring it to home, but it’s exhausting.”

When night falls, Aisha’s entire family shares a one-room house.

“We have no other place to go,” she says.

Life didn’t used to be this hard. Before the conflict, many families with few resources were still able to manage. But since the fighting broke out, prices have skyrocketed.

“Things were cheap prior to the war,” says Aisha says, noting that a 50-kilo bag of wheat now costs 10,000 Yemeni rial, or about $40. “I don’t know how I can manage to buy clothes and food.”

Toward the end of last year, the crisis had grown so severe that 8.4 million Yemenisabout a quarter of the country’s populationwere severely hungry. And 400,000 children under the age of 5 are suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Though Saudi Arabia announced a temporary lifting of a blockade in December, by mid-January only half the country’s food needs had made it through the ports.

Oxfam maintains that nothing short of fully opening Yemen’s major ports will offer the relief people need. And nothing short of an immediate ceasefire will give them hope.

To combat cholera, Oxfam has been providing water and sanitation assistance to more than 430,000 people in five governates, including Amran, where both Aish and Jameela live. Our work has included repairing water supplies and disinfecting water storage areas, providing households with water purification equipment, building latrines, and training community volunteers to share information on cholera prevention and treatment.

Since July 2015, Oxfam has reached more than 2.8 million people in nine governorates with assistance that has also included cash and food vouchers.

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