Yemen: Helping people in a collapsing country

Antoine Esteban
Women and children fetching water from a rehabilitated water point

Landing at Sana’a airport on a UN flight, you really do feel like you are arriving in a warzone: commercial flights do not land here anymore (in fact, since my visit, a blockade imposed by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition closed the airports even to humanitarian aid flights for two weeks).

Plane wrecks are spread along the runway and bombed warehouses are scattered behind. Armed men patrol the streets. Airstrikes at night in the suburbs keep the whole city awake until late. The economy is almost bankrupt and public services are barely functioning.

Despite all this, CARE Yemen is still at work providing emergency assistance to Yemeni people affected by this crisis – including people in remote areas beyond the urban centres.

One such is Suwayr district to the north of Sana’a. It took us five hours to get here, crossing several checkpoints guarded by armed men on our way and driving off road for the last two hours. The district is remote and mountainous; paved roads are scarce and the electricity network nonexistent.

Landscape in Suwayr District, Yemen
A typical landscape in Suwayr district

Consequently, employment opportunities are limited; most families rely on small farming including goat farming to make ends meet.

When we talk to people living in this isolated area, they all feel disheartened and stress how difficult it is to find a decent livelihood beyond farming that would enable them to feed their family properly.

A woman with her goats in Yemen
A woman with her goats in Suwayr district

Hard to reach and under-developed, this district has been hard hit by the food crisis that affects the whole country. According to the food security classification system used by humanitarian agencies, the district is considered to be in ‘Crisis Phase’, meaning the food situation is extremely dynamic and fragile, and requires continuous humanitarian assistance.

Essam, CARE Yemen’s Senior Area Manager, tells me that CARE started intervening in this district a year ago, to provide emergency food assistance for the most vulnerable.

He is proud to tell me that CARE is the first organisation to intervene in this district, and hopes that his team will be able to continue assisting the community.

However, access to safe drinking water remains a challenge in the area, as over a third of the population does not have continuous access to water throughout the year.

Providing water and income to Suwayr district

Thanks to the support of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), CARE has been implementing a cash for work programme in two governorates in Yemen, including Amran where Suwayr district is located.

The approach is two-fold. On the one hand, CARE recruits vulnerable members of the local community to participate in communal works, and pays them so they can cover their basic needs – food, accommodation, education, health.

On the other hand, the rehabilitation of water schemes benefits the whole population living in the targeted areas – almost 18,000 people now have access to safe drinking water.

Rehabilitated water point in Yemen
One of the rehabilitated water points

Rehabilitating the wells, setting up solar panels to activate the pumps and tanks to securely store the water, ensures safer water for the district’s people. During our visit of the water schemes, people tell me that before, people and animals used to fall in the open well, injuring themselves and contaminating the water. But because of the scarcity of water points in the area, they would continue drinking water from the same source, facing the risk of getting sick.

Now, they are able to safely access water both for their family and livestock, also ensuring continuous income from cattle farming. In particular, the women I met during the visit were grateful for the rehabilitation of these schemes; they all explained how much safer they were, as well as easier to use than the old wells with their ropes to pull up the filled bucket.

It was really satisfying for all of us to see how relieved they felt, and listen to them explaining how the rehabilitated wells impacted their lives, enabling them to save time to dedicate to their family.

Group of men and boys in Suwayr district Yemen
Men and boys from the district pose for a photo

Members of the communities who took part in the works also shared their satisfaction with the CARE programme. One man, a father of three, told me he was previously unemployed due to the lack of economic opportunities in the area. Selected by CARE for the programme, he took part for 27 days during the three months of rehabilitations works.

The cash he received on a monthly basis for this work – 35 000 Yemeni Rials, or about 100 US dollars – enabled him to buy food for his whole family to cover their needs.

He also managed to purchase a couple of goats which he hopes to get milk from.

CARE is continuing to provide support to Suwayr district with funding from the DEC: we are now focusing our intervention on preventing the cholera outbreak from spreading in the district. CARE has also been implementing water, sanitation and hygiene initiatives in response to the cholera outbreak in several governorates across the country with funding from the UK Department for International Development and the Jersey Overseas Aid Commission.

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Antoine Esteban's picture

Antoine Esteban is a CARE Humanitarian Programme Coordinator for the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa).