Two-thirds of people in conflict hit Yemen without clean water

May 26, 2015

Ongoing airstrikes, ground fighting and fuel shortages mean that an additional 3 million Yemenis are now without drinking water – raising the total number of Yemenis without a clean water supply and sanitation to at least 16 million – almost two-thirds of the population, Oxfam warned today.

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 diarrhoea. Millions are digging unprotected wells or relying on water being trucked in – although the latter option is no longer available to most Yemenis. Oxfam data from four governorates shows that the price of trucked water has now almost tripled.

Grace Ommer, Country Director for Yemen Oxfam, said: “If the fighting, the fuel shortages, the lack of medical supplies, lack of sleep due to bombing, and the spiralling prices were not enough, now nearly two thirds of Yemenis are at risk of being without clean water or sanitation services, all rotting under heaps of garbage in the streets, broken sewage pipes and without clean water for the seventh consecutive week.”

Seven weeks of airstrikes and fighting have damaged and disrupted large parts of the network. In the rural areas of Hajjah and Al Hodeidah governorates in western Yemen, 40% of the local clean water supply systems which Oxfam were supporting have now shut down. Newly displaced people from Saada have also confirmed that another 150,000 people in that area are now without water. Based on these figures, Oxfam estimates that as many as 3 million more people across the country are now without access to clean water due to the conflict.

In addition to this, local authorities in 11 cities (including Aden, Al Hodeidah and Sanaa) have appealed to humanitarian organisations to provide them with more than 2 million litres of fuel needed to continue pumping water to the millions that rely on their water supply systems.

Local authorities have also warned that they do not have enough fuel to maintain the pumping and treatment of raw sewage, posing yet another serious threat to public health. Piles of rotting garbage are now filling the streets in Yemen’s major cities due to the lack of local collection services.

Residents in Taiz have told Oxfam that they are suffering a severe water shortage and are relying on trucks. But a lack of fuel and fighting in the streets means that it takes 4-5 days to get water delivered and the prices have increased exponentially.

Ommer added: “A serious outbreak of disease is looming if water and sanitation issues are not addressed. Hospitals are struggling to cope without access to fuel, clean water and medical supplies. They surely can’t handle a surge in disease.

“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. Anything short of this will usher a health disaster to add to the pile of miseries that Yemenis are facing.”

Before the recent escalation, 13 million people – half the population – were without access to clean drinking water.1 Basic delivery systems provided clean water directly to the homes of just one in three of the population2 and another 20 per cent had access to clean water through communal boreholes or other means outside their homes.

Oxfam is continuing its operations in Al Hodeidah and Hajjah, where we have provided clean water to 80,000 beneficiaries since the escalation of the crisis. Oxfam is also working with local authorities to ensure provision of clean water to one million people in and around Aden.

Notes to Editors:

  • More than 40% of the water supply system that Oxfam supports in Al Hodeidah and Hajjah are no longer operating due to fuel shortages. In Hajjah, Oxfam staff reported partial damage to five water systems, with the remaining four water supply systems damaged beyond repair in the current circumstances. Newly displaced people fleeing Oxfam’s area of operation in Saada have informed Oxfam field staff that 19 of the 27 water supply systems built by Oxfam in that area have been either damaged by the fighting or have stopped because of lack of fuel, cutting off another 150,000 people.
  • 2.5 million people in 11 cities (including Aden, Al Hodeidah and Sana’a) currently benefit from fuel provided by humanitarian organisations to keep their local water supply systems in operation.
  • Oxfam has been monitoring the price of a 500 litre water truck in four governorates in Yemen and has found that increasing demand and fuel scarcity have together pushed the prices out of reach for many. Where the price of a water truck delivery was YR2,000 in parts of Al Hodeidah before the conflict, it is now YR8,000. In Sana’a where a delivery cost YR4,500 before, it costs YR10,000 now.
  • The latest escalation in conflict in Yemen has left the country in ruins. Coalition airstrikes that began on 26 March 2015, now in their second month, have taken nearly 2,000 lives and injured more than 7,000 others. More than 500,000 people have been displaced while thousands more remain trapped as fighting continues throughout the country, and are therefore unable to flee.


1. UN OCHA (2014), ‘2015 Yemen Humanitarian Needs Overview’ December 2014

2. UNICEF (2014) ‘Yemen National Social Protection Monitoring Survey’

Media Contact:
Melanie Gallant
(613) 240-3047


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