Eight million people in Yemen will be without running water within days as fuel runs out due to the Saudi-led coalition blockade of the country’s northern ports, Oxfam warned today.
They will join the almost 16 million people in Yemen who already cannot get clean piped water, leaving more than four in five people without a steady supply of clean water.
A disruption to fuel supplies on this scale could trigger a fresh spike in a cholera epidemic which has seen nearly 950,000 suspected cases since April this year, but which had begun to ease in recent weeks.
In northern areas of the country petrol stocks are due to run out soon and diesel in approximately eight days. The country’s Ministry of Water reports that seven cities have already run out of fuel and two others will run out soon. Water supply in places such as the port of Hodeidah is reliant on fuel provided by the United Nations. Aid agencies agreed to support the water supply networks but they will not be able to continue as fuel is becoming scarce and more expensive.
Oxfam said that urgent action is needed to keep clean water flowing.
Shane Stevenson, Oxfam’s Country Director in Yemen said: “The people of Yemen are already being starved to submission – unless the blockade is lifted quickly they will have their clean water taken away too. Taking clean water from millions of people in a country that is already suffering the world’s largest cholera outbreak and on the verge of famine would be an act of utmost barbarity.
“The punishment of ordinary civilians is never justified. These are real people whose lives are being callously jeopardized in other countries’ war games. Yemen can’t take much more, unless the blockade is lifted millions already in crisis will face a fresh catastrophe.”
Water scarcity in Yemen is amongst the worst in the world and the country mostly depends on ground water for its water supply. Petrol prices have already leaped 200 percent in the capital Sanaa and the price of water has more than doubled – well beyond the reach of most people.
A Saudi-led coalition blockade has closed Yemen’s northern ports since 6 November, pushing millions more people to the edge of what is already the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe and the world’s worst ever recorded cholera outbreak. The coalition announced on 23 November they would reopen the ports to aid, but without fuel this will not significantly improve the situation.
Nearly seven million people are at risk of starvation and the UN has warned that unless the blockade is lifted, Yemen will suffer the worst famine of any country in recent years. Cutting off water supplies will force families to drink dirty polluted water, jeopardizing their lives as the risk of disease heightens.
Oxfam’s work providing water has already been hit by fuel shortages. In Khamer district of Amran governorate in Western central Yemen – where there have been 174 deaths due to cholera since April – 31,000 people have already been cut off as parts of the water network have run out or are close to running out of fuel.
The local cleaning department in the city of Taiz and surrounding areas ran out of fuel this week and the clearing of rubbish from the streets has been halted – creating an ideal environment for new diseases such as dysentery and diphtheria to quickly spread.
Diphtheria has infected at least 120 people since early November, and this will only worsen if health facilities don’t get the fuel they need. At least one million children are at risk of contracting the disease if vaccines and medicine continue to be denied entry, according to the World Health Organisation.
Stevenson said: “The longer the blockade continues, the more people need our help but the less help we are able to offer. The international community cannot be allowed to turn its backs on the suffering in Yemen.
All those with influence over the Saudi-led coalition are complicit in Yemen’s suffering unless they do all they can to push them to lift the blockade.”