International aid organisation Oxfam has cut trucked water to thousands of Yemenis because of the increase in fuel prices in the conflict-torn country. Piped water systems installed by Oxfam, which supply a quarter of a million people, are running at around 50 per cent capacity, the agency said 22 October.
Mark Lowcock, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator (OCHA), addressed the Security Council of the United Nations 17 October about the humanitarian situation in Yemen, including severe water challenges in the strife-torn country, describing Yemen is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and the largest relief operation with more than 250 humanitarian agencies working through the UN response plan.
11 million people rely on water supplied by piped networks in the country and four million people who depend on water trucked in by private companies have had to drastically reduce their daily consumption since fuel prices soared in September. In three major cities, Ibb, Dhamar and Al Mahwit, home to around 400,000 people, central water systems have been forced to shut down completely.
Water networks, power plants, airports, bridges, roads, schools and health facilities have all been destroyed by fighting between the Saudi-led Arab coalition backed by the US and UK, and Iranian-backed Houthi rebels since March 2015.
In the past year, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has focused on five key areas in Yemen: the protection of civilians; humanitarian access; funding for the aid operation; support for the economy; and a political solution.
With respect to the protection of civilians, a number of air strikes in September killed an average of 13 people each day and a UN-supported water system that serves 12,000 people. Lowcock emphasized that this was the fourth time the facility has been hit since 2016.
Lowcock commented that humanitarian access is challenging given the harassment, interference and restrictions imposed by the authorities. Specifically, he mentioned that local authorities blocked humanitarian assessments in Hajjah and Hudaydah, where the authorities revealed that 12,000 families had been affected by floods.
Lowcock emphasized that Government regulations of commercial fuel imports have contributed to severe fuel shortages in many areas. Fuel is essential to transport food to markets, pump drinking water and power sanitation systems. Nearly three-quarters of hospitals rely on fuel to provide care, and aid organizations need fuel for their work.
As severe shortages have gripped many areas recently, fuel prices doubled or even tripled, pushing the cost of food and drinking water (which many people already could not afford) even higher.
Without fuel, municipal water systems in three cities stopped working altogether, and others cut back services. Sanitation plants reduced operations. Large quantities of human, animal and commercial waste have accumulated in streets, exacerbating risk of cholera and other diseases.
More than seven million people already weakened by malnourishment in Yemen, as water borne diseases are rife. The country has experienced one of the worst cholera outbreaks in recent history. Since April 2017, there have been over two million suspected cases of cholera and over 3700 deaths.
The current fuel crisis is the latest example of the warring parties using the economy as a weapon of war. Fuel supplies have been an ongoing problem in Yemen but have escalated recently following extra restrictions on imports announced by the internationally recognized government, with Houthi authorities also placing restrictions on imports.
Ships carrying fuel have stopped docking, and prices have shot up due to lack of supply. In Sana’a a liter of petrol is now almost three times the price it was in August, Oxfam reports.
Muhsin Siddiquey, Oxfam’s Yemen Country Director said: “This fuel crisis is affecting every area of people’s lives but none more crucial than the lack of clean water. For millions of Yemenis already struggling to survive hunger and disease, clean water is a lifeline that is now being cut”.