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How Water Shortages and Lack of Sanitation Affect the Future of Yemen

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) predicts that the number of deaths in Yemen will reach around a quarter of a million by the end of 2019. This damage is delaying Yemen from achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for a generation, nearly 30 years.

Gunfire and military attacks are not the only cause for countless deaths in Yemen, but the spread of disease, lack of health services, and lack of safe water sources are other underlying causes as well.

The objectives of the sixth goal of SDGs range from ensuring equitable access to safe water and sanitation for all, eliminating harmful habits that contribute to water pollution, and addressing and restoring water-related systems.

Only within a few months of 2015, a cholera epidemic killed 250 people in Aden province alone, in southern Yemen. Another 6,000 people were infected in the same area.

Cholera is usually spread through contaminated water, often affecting overcrowded communities which have inadequate sanitation. But Aden was not the only region in Yemen hit by a cholera outbreak. Yemen has generally experienced the worst cholera outbreaks in recorded history with more than a million cases, more than half of them children.

Contaminated drinking water is not the only source of cholera infection; eating vegetables that are sprayed with untreated water can cause infection. Cooked grains left at room temperature may also become a suitable environment for the growth of cholera bacteria.

In Yemen, the lack of fuel for water treatment or access to it leads to contamination of irrigation water. Lack of fuel also leads to a lack of electricity, which means that household food cannot be stored properly.

Fuel shortages are not the only reason for the lack of electricity supply to the population. Some studies estimate that nearly 55 percent of Yemen’s energy sector assets (including transmission lines and power plants) are currently damaged to some extent, while 8 percent of them are destroyed.

The lack of water, the lack of sanitation facilities, as well as the lack of fuel and electricity, are all reasons for denying thousands of students in Yemen access to classrooms.

War, the geographic and demographic nature of Yemen, make things more complicated. About 71 percent of Yemen’s population lives in the countryside, 90 percent of the population lacks adequate water, and according to some projections, Yemen will soon exhaust its entire water supply.

Girls in Yemen are most at risk of being denied education due to a lack of sanitation and water sources. Globally, women and girls are responsible for water collection in 80 percent of households without access to water on-premises. Menstrual hygiene management is difficult in the absence of water, soap, and gender-responsive sanitation facilities, whether at home, school, or work. “My children couldn’t go to school because they were busy fetching water all day,” said Ahmed Abdul Qader, a resident of a rural area in southern Yemen.

Even before the conflict, Yemeni girls had the lowest enrollment in education in the region. Increasing women’s and girls’ educational attainment contributes to women’s economic empowerment and more inclusive economic growth.

To alleviate the problem of lack of safe drinking water and sanitation, many relief organizations in Yemen are providing schools and communities with solar power generation equipment in the hope that students will be encouraged to attend classes. As there is no public electricity source for some communities at the moment, the power generated from solar panels is bringing water consistently into schools’ tanks.

Deprivation of safe water and sanitation affects school enrollment, which in the long term affects the future of a whole generation of Yemenis. According to UNESCO, if all adults completed secondary education, we could cut the global poverty rate by more than half.

On the other hand, the lack of safe drinking water and the lack of sanitation services cause thousands of deaths in Yemen, especially children, due to related diseases. Globally, the proportion of the world’s population with access to safe drinking water is reported to have risen from 61 to 71 percent between 2000 and 2015. Still, the conflict in Yemen continues to prevent significant progress.

If the conflict in Yemen is to come to an end, one of the main areas of focus of the reconstruction effort will be to provide safe drinking water and sanitation in the war-torn country.