These trucks are as old as my grandmother!

Jun 27, 2016

One of the 62 greenhouses delivered by UNDP with support from the King Salman Centre for Relief and Humanitarian Aid

The collapsed arch that marks the entrance to Sa’ada City eerily greets the visitor. All along the five-hour drive north from Yemen’s capital city, Sana’a, we see marks of war – makeshift camps for the internally displaced and craters caused by military operations.

On the first day of our field mission, we meet implementing partners to review project activities in solid waste management, greenhouses and psychosocial assistance. “Many women have become widows”, noted a woman representative from a local NGO. We talk about the potential of agricultural value chain businesses and midwifery clinics as social enterprises for vulnerable women. Sa’ada Governorate lies at the border with Saudi Arabia and has experienced many wars in the past. It is also the agricultural food basket of Yemen, especially for fruits and vegetables.  

The next day, we visit several greenhouses that were set up between September and December last year. Farmers are now enjoying the harvest of organic cucumbers and so are we. Ahmed, a 24 year old farmer, tells us that a cucumber plant now yields 20kgs after 40 days, as compared to 7kgs in 70 days using his old farming techniques before we implemented the project.

With the head of the Cleaning Fund, the entity in charge of managing solid waste, we approach the largest dump site of Sa’ada City. The effect of qat, a leafy narcotic that is daily consumed and packaged in plastic bags, is detectable even here. We stumble across medical waste, animal carcasses and countless tons of plastic. The dump site neighbours a university. UNDP is providing spare parts to the Cleaning Fund to rehabilitate its fleet of vehicles and hired 250 youth for two months to clean up waste and debris from the streets under a cash-for-work programme. Yet it is clear that the needs are immense, as the Cleaning Fund is under-resourced to achieve its mandate. “We need new machines, new trucks, more garbage containers to keep the city clean”, explained Mohammed Albadani from the Cleaning Fund, “the trucks are as old as my grandmother”, he added. Abdullah Saleh, guardian of the dump site since three years ago leaves us, away between looming hills of waste.


Abdullah Saleh, guarding the Sa’ada dump site

Recycling can also become a business opportunity considering the waste that is being disposed of without prior sorting. Akram is one of our ten entrepreneurs who set up a joint venture with four other neighbours who participated in our waste removal cash-for-work scheme. He was unemployed before, and through the business training and grant given by UNDP, he established a furniture refurbishing business – recycling tailoring cut-outs and compressing them into cushions and sofas. “It is good business, we plan to expand and market ourselves more”, he says while adjusting his protection glasses before showing us how he operates the fabric shredding machine he purchased from the capital city. Akram is a Muhamasheen, a member from Yemen’s socio-economically marginalized group.


Akram in his workshop, shredding recycled fabric to bring a second life to furniture

“Now that there are no more power cuts, I cannot tell you how many patients escaped death and severe complications”, explained Mohammed Hajar Managing Director of Jumhori Hospital, Sa’ada’s largest hospital that also serves the neighbouring districts. When we visited in September 2015, trauma patients were lying in the car park, and medical staff were struggling with the ever-increasing influx of injured or ill people. The dialysis center has re-opened, thanks to the solar energy provided by UNDP, and doctors are operating on patients without fear of an imminent power shortage. The hospital is now able to save 100 liters of fuel a day.


Jomhuri Hospital equipped with UNDP solar panel

At the height of the war in mid-2015, our field coordinator joined a group of displaced persons and lived in a rock cave with his family and relatives. Very often his eyes glanced up at the sky as aircrafts hovered above. We take these stories and many others on our journey back to Sana’a, and draw inspiration from the formidable resilience of Yemenis in the midst of conflict, cyclones and floods that have all hit the country over the past year. For the women and youth of Sa’ada, we hope to rally support for new activities, driven by the needs witnessed for greater investment in income-generating opportunities for them to cope - and recover. 

Programme Specialist

Farah Abdessamad, Programme Specialist in Sana’a
Mobile: +967 712221959,
Email: farah.abdessamad@undp.org