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Floods exacerbate existing vulnerabilities in Yemen

A rocky landscape

Hababah dam after collapsing due to the heavy rains

Hababah dam after collapsing due to the heavy rains

In Yemen, the rainy season often lasts from March to October, during which the majority of the country’s annual rainfalls. Yet this year’s rainy season was distinctive. Yemen has been experiencing torrential rains and flooding since late March, which has led to casualties, displacement and severe damage to infrastructure. Many civilians have lost their homes in a matter of minutes, ending up looking for any kind of materials to protect themselves. The UN Refugee Agency estimates that as a result of flooding, 300,000 people have lost homes and possessions in the last three months, and 148 people have died in the last two months.

As the rainy season goes on, it is expected that more rainfall and flooding will occur across Yemen, particularly in already badly-affected rural areas. The poor quality of traditionally constructed houses makes the effect of heavy rains even worse. Many houses can’t withstand such heavy rainfall and are either destroyed or damaged. Food stocks, blankets, furniture and mattresses are damaged by water and mud.

A dirt road with fallen trees
Farmland swept away by the flooding

Flooding destroys farmlands, which are the main source of income for people living in rural areas, who particularly rely on grape and wheat crops. Some farmers have recently lost their fruit farms overnight and are still in shock from the trauma they have experienced. The impact of a flood – the loss of lives, assets, shelter and livelihoods – can endure for many years.

“We depend on farming and growing wheat to save money for the year,” says Sadeq Ausaim, a resident of Hababah area in Thula district of Amran governorate. “Dam flooding has swept away my farmland and damaged the soil. It is a big loss that I never expected in my entire life.” Like Sadeq’s, many families were affected after the collapse of Al-Ronah water dam in Hababah area, one of the biggest dams in the province.

Poverty, illness and vulnerability to disasters are mutually reinforcing. Most of the residents in Hababah area are already very poor: after more than five years of conflict, they have largely lost their savings and their main sources of income, leaving them much more vulnerable to disasters like flooding.

A ruined building with a hole in the wall
A traditional house damaged by the rains

“I am the only person who lives in this house,” says Faizah, a female resident in Hababah area. “I had to leave my home for two days during the rains because the house started to fall apart. There is nowhere I can take refuge and no one to rely on.” Faizah has been suffering from stunted growth since she was a child. All of her family members have died and she is alone seeking aid to survive.

As a result of the rainy season, the prevalance of diseases such as cholera, malaria, dengue fever and COVID-19 are expected to increase. Yemen suffered from water-borne diseases even before the escalation of the conflict in 2015. Children who usually play around the flooded areas are at risk of disease and drowning. Providing safe water, hygiene, and sanitation during flooding can limit the spread of diseases and is a key preventative measure in reducing the spread of diseases, particularly cholera and COVID-19.

The already faltering Yemeni economy has taken a huge hit in 2020 due to COVID-19, with food and other essential goods becoming inaccessible for millions as the value of the Yemeni Riyal plummets and incomes are lost. Malnutrition rates remain among the highest in the world, with more than a million women and two million children requiring treatment for acute malnutrition. The UN has warned that famine is once again a very real prospect.

Despite ongoing humanitarian aid operations in Yemen, the needs are continuing to grow, with over 20 million people in need of water, sanitation and hygiene services; 20 million food insecure and over 100,000 people displaced from their homes this year due to fighting and flooding. Many aid programmes are threatened with closure due to a lack of funding. If these life-saving interventions are stopped or reduced, the situation will deteriorate quickly. The devastating flooding Yemen is experiencing is deepening the misery and highlighting the fragility of millions.

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