Home | TheWaterBlog

TheWaterBlog: If you want to share unique images and observations in this section, or would like to know about syndicating these posts, send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.!

 

Yemen: poor sanitation infrastructure in times of war

by Nada al Dahmashi :: August 09, 2019

It is well-known that war can only result in destruction and devastation. In a country that is already grieving from weak infrastructure, it was clear that war will aggravate  hunger, diseases, and the need for fundamental services.

The sanitation networks in Yemen weren’t sufficient even before the war People were used to see some sewage overflowing in their neighborhoods, especially during the rainy season. In Sana’a, for example, there isn’t a sewage network that covers the whole city. Some neighborhoods still have cesspits. Even while implementing Sana’a wastewater treatment plant, it was known its capacity wasn’t enough for all Sana’a’s swage at that time. Its 50000 m3 capacity, is inadequate nowadays and was inadequate back then. And it is now working with load bigger than what it was designed for.  


The water being expelled from the treatment. Photographs by Osama al Jailani (left) and Nada al Dahmashi (right)

The design was developed in the eighties. The implementation did not start until much later, in the nineties. However, the design remained unchanged. Meanwhile, the population grew and continues to do so. The outcome is a treatment plant that churns out water with a Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) higher than 500 mg/L, which cannot be used to irrigate.

Nevertheless, farmers do irrigate with it. This started when this water first leaked into some farmers’ fields and they noticed a higher yield as a result. They then started using this water and keeping water from wells for their own use. The government tried to deter this behavior, using several measures, but to no avail. Thus, Sanaá residents continued to be supplied with vegetables and fruits that are contaminated.


The vegetables and a canal carrying the contaminated water. (Bottom right) Livestock drinking the untreated water and eating the grass grown by it.


Generators being used to pump the contaminated water onto the fields

In times of war, many sanitation facilities were destroyed and the treatment plant was out of service for a while. So the farmers have been using the expelled water without any treatment.

Such use of untreated wastewater has been a big concern for government authorities and INGOs alike. Several diseases have spread due to lack of awareness of such practices, such as cholera of which the city has seen several outbreaks during summers and the rainy season. Many awareness campaigns to promote hygienic habits have been carried out among farmers and the public.  

Hayel Street As A Miserable Example of Sana’a City:

The congested Hayel street, in the heart of Sana’a, is a commercial centre.  it is one of the areas that lack basic infrastructure. During the war, this neighborhood has recorded one of highest records in receiving the Internally Displaced People (IDPs). This has only worsened its situation. As someone living in that very area, I have experienced sewerage spilling on to the street millions of times over the past five years. Due to the current economic situation many government employees haven’t received salaries for three years, the cleaning workers have been on strike many times.

Garbage piles up quickly on Hayel Street since located here are several markers, malls, hotels, and fuel stations. The garbage often clogs the sewage disposal and storm drains.  Of late, residents in Hayel street have complained of traces of sewage in the water supplied to them by the Sana’a Water and Sanitation Local Corporation (the water provider to the public).

The sewerage network in this area is half new and half very old. Contamination has happened in parts of the old network. Presumably the water and sewerage pipes have broken and their contents have mixed. Stumped by the foul smell, a lot of people have been running the water out on the streets, and bought water from tankers instead.


Residents run the contaminated water supplied to their taps onto Heyal street

A recent facebook post by the Social Fund for Development asks residents to suggest solutions. Many have suggested that garbage should not be allowed to accumulate, that water and sanitation lines should be maintained more frequently, and that the storm drains should be fixed.

New Projects in Sana’a Towards Sanitation Improvements 

Due to the war, understandably, there has been emphasis on emergency response across the country. The main focus was, and continues to be, on providing water and food. There has been widespread ignorance regarding the importance of sanitation. Of late, the WaSH Cluster and NGOs working in the field have been trying to incorporate sanitation more and more in their projects, budgets, and future agenda.


Opening of the FAO project (Photo by Osama al Jailani)

FAO has implemented a new small project in partnership with water user associations (WUAs) in the Sanaá basin, such as the Al Ahdaq WUA located close to the wastewater treatment plant, where farmers have been using the untreated water expelled from the plant.  As part of the project, FAO is installing in the area small units that are more like sceptic tanks than treatment plants. Will such units bring about significant change? Only time will tell. However, as an engineer, I doubt that these units will be very effective in curbing the problem. Nevertheless, the project has pushed sanitation higher up NGO agenda. As more organisations follow suit, many diseases will be prevented and people’s livelihoods will improve. Side-by-side, in this water scarce country, treated wastewater should be utilized much more as an alternative to fresh groundwater, to save groundwater sources from exploitation. 


Units being constructed under the FAO project


  • Spirulina: Opportunities for nutrition and livelihoods in Ethiopia

    Spirulina: Opportunities for nutrition and livelihoods in Ethiopiaby Jean Marc Pace RicciJuly 23, 2019Spirulina has been used as food for centuries by different populations all over the world and recently has been rediscovered as a food supplement. Its high protein, vitamin, and nutrient content, as well as rapid growth rates have attracted the attention of nutritionists and farmers alike.Spirulin...

    Read more

  • One very hard hit for Yemen

    By Sharafaddin Saleh, Adel Zolail and Frank van SteenbergenJuly 16, 2019Sad message from the Tihama, the  coastal lowland in Yemen that one time (not so long ago) was the food  and fodder basket of the country. As a result of the war, most of infrastructure of these flood-based  ‘spate’ irrigation systems deteriorated either directly or indirectly. As an example, the buildings and earthmovi...

    Read more

  • The Power of Peers: Community Certification

    The Power of Peers: Community Certification by Frank van Steenbergen :: June 14, 2019We have written earlier on the power of peers – a most powerful way of accelerating learning and identifying best practices.  By making people learn from each other and organizing competitions and treasure hunts among them, people are more convinced and confident that they can make the same change and even fee...

    Read more

  • Deforestation in Yemen’s Urban Areas – Sana’a University Campus as an example

    Deforestation in Yemen’s Urban Areas – Sana’a University Campus as an exampleBy Nada al-Dahmashi , Water and Environment Centre (WEC), Sana'a  University:: June 14, 2019Images: Nada al-Dahmashi The 1st of March is ‘Tree Day’ in Yemen. This annually reoccurring day was instated in 1975. It followed from a project that planned to have three million trees planted every year, and 9 millio...

    Read more

  • Man and ecology

    Man and ecology Postcard from Awezet, Farta (Amhara, Ethiopia)Posted by Frank van Steenbergen, Getachew Engdayehu, and Bantamlak Wondmnow June 05, 2019Located at the foot of the Guna Mountain in Amhara Region, life in Awezet has become gradually better over the last twenty five years. First it was the introduction of farm inputs, particularly fertilizers that caused crop yields to go up. The new...

    Read more

  • By a Glass of Water

    By a Glass of WaterPosted by Frank van SteenbergenMay 08, 2019 Remains of Queen of Sheba's palace in AxumAxum is a place of power and spirituality – and millennia of biblical history.The fabled Queen of Sheba came from this holy place in Northern Ethiopia.  Intrigued by the tales of the wisdom of King Solomon - that are still with us in the Proverbs -  she travelled to Jerusalem to meet her s...

    Read more

  • Vermiculture: Turkey’s new booming agro-business

    Vermiculture: Turkey’s new booming agro-business Posted by Sukru EsinApril 16, 2019A culture of dynamism and a entrepreneurship is enabling a variety of initiatives in Turkey. The agriculture sector in particular is very dynamic and open to new approaches. Vermicompost is a good example, that could be focused on more and replicated in different regions.In Turkey, the first vermicompost(solid an...

    Read more

  • Small blessings

    Small BlessingsBy Frank van Steenbergen, March 26, 2019On 22 March 2019 at the Sumatrakade in Amsterdam a delicate miracle happened. It rained in a small area of 15 metres length around two bare trees. The rest of the area remained entirely dry. It rained for twenty minutes and did not stop. Little pools formed on the old quai pavement and rain drops were falling into the pools. The sky was totall...

    Read more

  • Safe house. Postcard from Boschplaat, Terschelling.

    Safe house. Postcard from Boschplaat, Terschelling.By Frank van Steenbergen, March 19, 2019  The Safe house at Terschelling. (Credit left and right: Frank van Steenbergen. Middle: Jurjen Veerman Shutterstock)The North Coast of Terschelling Island, the Netherlands is the rough edge to what otherwise is one of the more smooth and caring countries of the world. It is an area with shifting sea shoal...

    Read more

  • The winter riddle

    The winter riddleFrank van Steenbergen | March 8, 2019  Here is the winter riddle. If one flies over a Northern winter landscape then there are large patches of snow covering town, villages, farmlands and water bodies whereas where there is forest there is hardly any. A pattern hidden in de warm days of the year is now revealed – white and dark green, open land and forest.So here is the riddle...

    Read more