In a country regularly characterised by its arid to hyper-arid climate, Yemen’s vulnerable, war-affected communities face the additional challenge of climate-induced water shortages.
Water insecurity is a major concern in Yemen. There is considerable variation in rainfall across the country as the coastal ridges block the passage of rain-producing weather systems. This casts a rain shadow resulting in the country’s interior arid climate. This also contributes to erosion, which causes environmental degradation and the loss of fertile topsoil – a consequence that has direct impact on the main source of income for rural Yemenis, who account for some 70 per cent of the country’s 30 million people.
In addition, six years of war have caused damage to many water structures – some beyond repair. This causes rural and poor households across Yemen no option but to adapt to a life with increasing water scarcity due to climate change and aquifer depletion. Many women and children walk six hours or more a day to collect water, while others resort to drinking from unclean sources or – if they can afford it – pay high fees to have water delivered.
UNDP’s Yemen Emergency Crisis Response Project (YECRP) has been working to implement long-term solutions, with funding and support from the World Bank’s International Development Association and in partnership with Yemen’s Social Fund for Development (SFD) and Public Works Project (PWP).
So far, the water harvesting systems have contributed to the collection of 1.06 million cubic meters of water with the 814 water reservoirs and 29,014 household water harvesting cisterns that have been built. These now provide access to water for more than 1.1 million vulnerable, war-affected Yemenis.
Projects include rooftop harvesting and installation of water storage containers, which change the lives of those able to access them. Decentralised water harvesting systems have proven to be more efficient, sustainable, and cost-effective in capturing and making harvested water available when compared with centralised water supply systems. Additionally, YECRP used this opportunity to bring employment to the areas it was supporting through cash-for-work.
Abdullah Al-Assad, from Bait Al-Assad village in Thi Al-Sufal, Ibb Governorate, explains that often women and children were spending the whole day collecting water. “Women and children are the ones collecting water from far away, carrying jerry cans on their heads – or on donkeys, if they have them,” he says. “There were times when they would leave in the morning and wouldn’t come back until the evening because of the number of women and children lining up to get their share of water.”
The YECRP cash-for-work project provided 130 households in his village with money to build their own individual reservoirs. “This project has given the villagers – and the internally displaced persons (IDPs) we host – the opportunity to work and earn a living for their families,” says Al-Assad. “We only get water from seasonal rains, but these reservoirs help us store water to use during the winter when water becomes scarce.”
The cash-for-work and wage employment project also provided an income earning opportunity to 113,730 participants – of which 4 per cent were women, 16 per cent IDPs, and 55 per cent young people. Today, not only do these households gain access to clean water closer to home, but they can also earn money to purchase essential goods such as food, healthcare, and education.
This project also contributes to the improved lives of Yemeni women and children. By making drinking water available close to home, women and children are freed of the time-consuming and physically demanding task of collecting water and as a result, school attendance has improved for girls and boys.
Muhammad Saleh Ali Muqbel, 10, and describes the five-hour journey he previously took to collect water. “If we went in the early morning, we could be back home by noon but we were forced to miss school to get water, he says. “It was painful and very tiring to carry the water containers by hand but now, after the water project, I don’t have to collect water anymore and I no longer have to miss my school lessons.”
Funded and supported by the World Bank’s International Development Association, the Yemen Emergency Crisis Response Project (YECRP) is implemented by the Social Fund for Development (SFD) and the Public Works Project (PWP) in partnership with UNDP. The US$400 million project provides economic stimuli in the form of large cash-for-work projects, support to small businesses, and labor-intensive repairs of socio-economic assets, benefiting vulnerable local households and communities across Yemen.