Millions suffer in camp squalor as Yemen war escalates
By Yahya Arhab
Sana’a, Jan 27 (EFE).- Saif al-Ddin Fara and his family of nine fled their home in Haradh city almost five years ago, escaping clashes between Houthi rebel fighters and the Saudi armed forces on Yemen’s northern border with Saudi Arabia.
They are among millions of vulnerable Yemenis who have been displaced by the seemingly never-ending war and have ended up in increasingly overcrowded, cramped and dangerously unsanitary camps.
The Faras are one of 47 Yemeni families living at a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) on the outskirts of the Houthi-controlled capital Sana’a, where even the most basic sanitation services are lacking.
“We are a vulnerable group living in a camp without toilets. Any person, his children or his wife cannot defecate at any time and cannot take showers”, Fara tells epa-efe.
“Some of us have to defecate into plastic bags inside the tents, especially the women. We need toilets because they are environmentally and health safe but we don’t have anything. Toilets are much-needed for this vulnerable group”, he explains.
The Yemen humanitarian crisis is the worst in the world, according to the United Nations, with 80 percent of the Arab country’s 30 million-population in desperate need of relief and protection, including millions of internally displaced people who lack access to safe drinking water and sanitation.
The UN has estimated that nearly 137,550 people were newly displaced across the war-ravaged Arab country in 2021, warning that the very limited funding does not meet Yemen’s enormous humanitarian needs.
In addition to an acute hunger crisis, health and environmental risks pose serious challenges to millions of vulnerable Yemenis, while the fighting between Saudi-loyal government forces and the Houthis, who control most of the northern regions of Yemen, continues to escalate.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said that over 1,200 Yemeni families fled their homes in the first two weeks of 2022, bringing the total number of IDPs rose to over 4.2 million since the full-scale war broke out in March 2015.
The war escalated again this month, with airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition leading to more civilian casualties.
The UNHCR said that airstrikes and missile attacks in recent weeks have “hit hospitals, telecommunications infrastructure, airports, a water facility and a school.”
“The scale of the escalation is exacerbating an already severe humanitarian crisis, complicating efforts to provide relief, threatening regional security and undermining efforts to bring an end to the conflict,” UN Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg and the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen David Gressly said in a statement Tuesday.
After years of brutal armed conflict, Yemen’s healthcare, water and sanitation systems have deteriorated amid the massive humanitarian crisis. In a recent report issued by the Houthi-held health services, Yemen has seen an acute cholera outbreak with over 2.5 million suspected cases, including at least 4,000 associated deaths, and over 1.2 malaria cases since October 2016.
The IDPs camps are the worst hit since they lack access to clean water and proper sanitation.
“There is a drain under a diverted road outside the camp, where women go to defecate at night. Nearly 50 women wait in line to defecate inside the drain,” Fara says.
Unicef estimates that less than 10 percent of internally displaced Yemenis – 70 percent of whom are women and children – have access to toilets.
Jamal Ali Othman was displaced from the port Yemeni city of Hodeidah three years ago after an escalation of fighting between the Houthis and Saudi-backed government forces.
In the camp, Othman can take a shower outdoors only around twice a month, wearing a towel to cover himself, using a plastic bottle to pour water over himself.
“We live here without bathrooms. Men take showers outdoors while women take showers inside the shelters. We suffer from lack of hygiene, lack of access to toilets, no clean water, causing the spread of diseases such as cholera, measles, itchy skin and scabies”, Othman tells epa-efe.