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Encouraging young people to team up and clean their neighborhoods

A man wearing a yellow helmet and a safety vest spraying the pavement of a road

Ismail cleaning and painting the street in his neighborhood

Ismail cleaning and painting the street in his neighborhood

For more than six consecutive years, Yemen continues to suffer from the ongoing armed conflict, which has had a significant impact on all aspects of life in the country. Infrastructure damage from the conflict, the effects of climate change and natural hazards led to escalating sanitation crisis.

According to the WASH cluster, only 9% of households across Yemen report garbage collection through a public system. Due to fuel shortages, local solid waste management providers operate irregularly and require support to ensure continuity.  With the environmental risks looming over Yemen, plastics waste threatens the public health system and the environment.

“While roaming around in my neighbourhood one day,” says Ismail Zabarah, a resident in Sana’a city. “I noted plastic bottles and tires thrown everywhere, causing the spread of disease among the neighbours, particularly children.”

A man painting a tire
Initiative members collect used tires, paint them and use them as planters

One of the bad habits that children often practice in many areas in Yemen is burning tires as a symbol of joy and happiness, particularly before the Eid celebrations. This practice causes serious health issues for children and residents in the neighbourhood who inhale the toxic smoke of burning tires.

Ismail recalls an incident when he asks children not to burn tires.  He says: “On the eve of Eid, my brother helped his friends by collecting tires to burn and jump over them. While he was jumping, he fell down and burnt his foot. The whole family’s happiness turned into sadness. My family had to spend the Eid holidays in hospital to treat my brother. All the people were enjoying their Eid time while we were sad and hoping that my brother would get better.”

A group of men wearing safety vests and hats holding plants and water cans
Ismail and his friends plant and distribute saplings to keep their neighbourhood clean and beautiful

Poor management of solid waste poses a real danger to the health of residents. The contaminated waste contains hazardous chemicals that can cause many diseases, including cholera, dengue fever and the latest Covid-19. Although recycling is fairly new in Yemen, a small scale recycling work to plastic, metal and glass has begun recently. Street cleaners and waster collectors gather plastic, metal and other reusable materials from the streets and sell them to merchants. The latter sends the compost to factories for recycling.

Speaking about his community initiative to help the locals in his area, Ismail says: “I informed a group of friends in the neighbourhood about the recycling initiative to clean the area, and they delightfully agreed to help. However, we didn’t have the needed expertise to team up and work toward that goal.”

With funding from Reach Out To Asia (ROTA), CARE supported youth initiatives in Amanat Al Asimah governorate to tackle key challenges in their communities. Through the Foundation for Yemen’s Future project, CARE built the capacity of  75 participants to start their community initiatives.

“Thanks to  CARE, we trained and got the necessary skills to launch our initiative,” says Ismail. “We learned a lot about recycling, how to be a recycling advocate and organize within the community to start the implementation process.”

Ismail and his friends work to collect unused tires, clean them and use them as planters to beautify their neighbourhood. In addition, the group distributed saplings and educated the recipients on the importance of planting trees and how to take care of them. “While we were planting the saplings, the community members were so cooperative and helped us in collecting tires and planting the saplings,” adds Ismail.

“I hope that we can receive more support and training sessions,” says Ismail. “I also hope that the idea of recycling and planting spreads all around Yemen,” he concludes.

Plastics are everywhere. They are cheap, convenient and light. However, we have to recognize that our addiction to plastics, especially single-use plastics, which we use only for a few minutes but can last up to hundreds of years in our environment, is leading to serious consequences. From changing our habits to encouraging a shift to a circular economy, we need to completely change the way we use plastics.

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