Close to 300,000 people in Yemen have contracted cholera, of whom 1,700 died, according to numbers reported in June. This epidemic has, in large part, been caused by the poor quality of the country’s drinking water, which is often contaminated with fecal matter. Moreover, wartorn Yemen lacks the resources to purify the water. And, when people fall ill, they often have no access to medical care. This disease, which is easy to treat, is most deadly when contracted by vulnerable people, like the elderly and, especially. children.
"They drink this water because they don’t have another choice”
The need for clean water is urgent for them.
This is #Yemen,” our Observer tweeted on July 10, 2017.
Some friends and I decided to travel to Nihm province [Editor’s note: Nihm is located to the east of the capital, Sana’a]. While we were making our way through a mountainous region, we came across a group of displaced people who had fled Nihm, where there are ongoing clashes between the Houthi rebels and government forces, backed by the international coalition led by Saudi Arabia. We learned that there were 56 displaced families who were sleeping in a makeshift campsites there.
These people don’t have anything. No food, no water, no money. They sleep in makeshift tents and receive little aide. Sometimes, people bring them a little bit of food, but they wake up the next day, starving as ever. I was shocked when I saw that they were drinking the filthy water from the swamp and I took photos to document these terrible conditions.
"Please, show the world what kind of conditions we are living in"
At first, the people I met in the makeshift camp were shy, especially the women. So I told them that I would only take a picture of them from a distance. When I told them that I wanted to post my photos online, they gave me their permission and said: “Please, show the world what kind of conditions we are living in. We don’t have anything and no one is helping us. We need potable water urgently. Tell NGOs that we need help; we need water and tents.
In this makeshift camp, these displaced people are drinking water unfit for consumption because they don’t have any other choice. At least three children there have already fallen ill with cholera.
The conflict has meant that close to 14.5 million Yemenis-- equivalent to roughly half of the country’s entire population-- don’t have access to clean and potable drinking water, according to the United Nations. Across the country, NGOs are working night and day to truck in clean drinking water.
Air strikes carried out by the coalition target Houthi positions, but they have also hit schools, hospitals and, according to United States senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat, reserves of drinking water.
"The cholera epidemic is in part due to the bombing of the water supply in Sana’a", he said in late June. The France 24 Observers team spoke with Qasim Ali Al-Shawea, a Yemeni humanitarian worker based Sana’a. He said that close to 300 reservoirs had been destroyed in this way.
According to the United Nations, the Red Cross and several other humanitarian organisations present on the ground, most government employees-- including 30,000 local health professionals-- haven’t been paid since last summer. This dire situation has led to personnel shortages, which only serves to aggravate the ongoing cholera epidemic. Moreover, municipal workers tasked with collecting garbage are no longer being paid and rubbish has been piling up in city streets. This waste also flows into water sources, polluting it, and thus creating perfect conditions for the spread of cholera.
Amnesty International says that at least 34 coalition airstrikes have violated international humanitarian law and killed at least 494 civilians. The rights group says these deadly air strikes were carried out using American and British equipment. Houthi rebels are also responsible for killing an unknown number of civilians while engaging in indiscriminate artillery, mortar and rocket fire.