As war continues to ravage Yemen, at least 16 million people—nearly two-thirds of the country’s population—are now without access to clean water, a humanitarian crisis that threatens to escalate, Oxfam warned on Monday.
According to a statement released by the international aid group, “People are being forced to drink unsafe water as a result of the disintegration of local water systems, bringing the real risk of life-threatening illnesses, such as malaria, cholera, and diarrhea.”
“Yemen’s hospitals are in no condition to adequately cope with an outbreak of a water-borne disease,” the organization stated.
In addition, the price of water that is trucked in from other areas has tripled, making it an unfeasible alternative for most Yemenis. Prior to the airstrike campaign, which began March 26, 2015, trucked water cost $9 in the western governorate of Al Hudaydah. It now costs $36.
Al Hudaydah and nearby Hajjah have seen 40 percent of their water systems shut down.
Roughly 13 million people in Yemen were already without access to clean water before the war began, with estimates from previous years warning that the capital city of Sanaa could be without “economically viable water supplies” by 2017.
That means it has taken only seven weeks of bombings, ground fighting, and blocking of humanitarian aid to cut off water access for an additional three million people.
“If the fighting, the fuel shortages, the lack of medical supplies, lack of sleep due to bombing, and the spiraling prices were not enough, now nearly two thirds of Yemenis are at risk of being without clean water or sanitation services.”
—Grace Ommer, Yemen Oxfam
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Without a ceasefire between Houthi factions and the Saudi Arabia-led coalition—which includes the U.S., Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Jordan, Egypt, Sudan, and Morocco—the crisis is unlikely to let up, and it will be civilians who pay the price, Oxfam warned.
“If the fighting, the fuel shortages, the lack of medical supplies, lack of sleep due to bombing, and the spiraling prices were not enough, now nearly two thirds of Yemenis are at risk of being without clean water or sanitation services,” said Grace Ommer, country director for Yemen Oxfam.
She added: “This is equivalent to the populations of Berlin, London, Paris and Rome combined, all rotting under heaps of garbage in the streets, broken sewage pipes and without clean water for the seventh consecutive week.”
Seven weeks of bombing by the coalition has not only caused extensive damage to civilian infrastructure in Yemen, it has displaced about half a million people—in turn compounding the growing water crisis, Oxfam said in a media briefing (pdf) last week.
On Monday, Ommer repeated Oxfam’s plea to end the military assault and give Yemenis a chance to recover from the crisis.
“Yemen needs an urgent ceasefire, and the opening of trade routes so vital supplies can enter the country to allow for the rebuilding and revamping of the water infrastructure,” Ommer said. “Anything short of this will usher a health disaster to add to the pile of miseries that Yemenis are facing.”
“Yemenis have the right to a better life, but they face an increasing risk of life threatening illness and disease,” Oxfam stated on Monday. “This is a direct infringement of their right to health and wellbeing, as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”