Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the Middle East. And with the war now in its sixth year, deficiencies in critical public services caused by years of poverty and insecurity have been exasperated. As the situation continues to deteriorate, civilians bear the brunt of the crisis.
It is estimated that some 19.4 million Yemenis lack access to clean drinking water and sanitation. Unfortunately, with the weakened state of the country’s healthcare services, there are unnecessary deaths caused by communicable diseases including cholera, malaria, dengue fever, chikungunya – and now the global COVID-19 pandemic.
The under resourced healthcare system – coupled with a lack of disease and transmission awareness – has meant that infections and diseases quickly and widely spread throughout the country.
“People empty their bladders and bowels in the streets,” says Ali Hassan, a resident of Dar Saad district in Aden governorate. “This causes diseases and increases the spread of epidemics, not to mention the unpleasant odour as waste accumulates and insects spread.”
As a result of this practice, Hassan worries about his family’s health. “I worry a lot when my children go out of the house to school, or when they go out to play, because they may encounter people’s waste, which places them at greater risk of contracting certain diseases,” he says.
But there is a financial downside to this too. Ahmed Abdulkarim, a furniture store owner in Mukalla, says the problem has made shop owners think seriously about moving their stores. “Such uncivilised behaviour has a detrimental effect, not only on the shopkeepers but on the whole community,” he says. “It is sad to see people urinate under bridges, on walls, or in some dim streets next to the marketplace, but it also has a negative impact on our trade as it drives customers away.”
The spread of filth and dirt makes shopkeepers worry that they may also become infected by some disease or inadvertently transmit diseases to their families.
To help tackle this problem, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in partnership with the World Bank, has built close to 14,500 household and public toilets across Yemen. Personal hygiene kits including soap, disinfectant and chlorine and communicable disease awareness-raising posters were distributed in communities to protect against COVID-19 and other diseases.
Construction work has provided an estimated 160 workers with temporary employment, while more than 25,000 people from the local community are expected to benefit from access to public toilets.
“Cholera and other diseases in Dar Saad have spread like never before, claiming many lives in an area that is also facing water scarcity,” explains Lawahedh Ahmed Hazaa, a civil engineer and consultant in the public toilets project in Dar Saad. “The building of public toilets will reduce the spread and impact of these diseases and local people will benefit – especially the marginalised and displaced peoples living in densely populated areas.”
UNDP will not only focus on building toilets in crowded places such as markets but close to hospitals as well. Yasser Ahmed Al-Shaibani – Assistant Director of UNDP’s implementing partner, the Public Works Project (PWP) in Sana’a – explains that “Hospitals receive ill patients, which increases the possibility of disease transmission, unless necessary preventive measures are taken. The toilets help create a healthier environment.”
With a content smile, Ahmed Abdulkarim, the Mukalla furniture store owner, describes his elation with the toilet construction. “We were very excited when we heard that they were going to build toilets in the market. The presence of toilets, with sterilisation materials, will protect people against diseases and our streets will finally be clean. This will also encourage customers to come to the marketplace and in turn our income might improve as well.”
The construction of 14,500 toilets across Yemen will bring life-changing benefits to thousands. “We have contributed to creating a clean and healthy environment, and that is the bottom line of our work,” says Yasser Ahmed Al-Shaibani, the Assistant Director of the sub-district of PWP in Sana’a.
Funded and supported by the United Nations Development Programme and the World Bank, the Yemen Emergency Crisis Response Project (YECRP) is implemented by the Social Fund for Development (SFD) and the Public Works Project (PWP). The US$400 million project provides economic stimuli in the form of cash-for-work projects, support to small businesses, and labour-intensive repairs of socio-economic assets, benefiting vulnerable local households and communities across Yemen.