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Photo story: Improved roads reduce isolation and promote durable development in rural Yemen

Wide short of beatiful mountain roads on a landscape of mountains with trees

The mountainous roads of Lahj Governorate, southern Yemen/ Bassam Saleh/ CARE Yemen.

The mountainous roads of Lahj Governorate, southern Yemen/ Bassam Saleh/ CARE Yemen.

Yemen’s landscape is often marked by tall mountains embracing green terraces and villages built on top of towering mountains, rugged hills, and at the edge of high cliffs. Despite its beauty, the rough mountainous roads make life very difficult for Yemeni families.

A stone building on a mountain
A remote village in northern Yemen. Photo: Abdulhakim/ CARE Yemen archive.

More than 70 percent of Yemen’s population lives in rural areas, far from basic services such as health and education facilities. Only a quarter of rural households in Yemen live within two kilometers of paved roads.

a dirt road with rocks and trees
The rough road of Al-Maqatera District in Lahj Governorate. Photo: Ebrahim Mohammed/ CARE Yemen.

About 70 percent of Yemen’s road network is unpaved. Eight years of conflict have had a significant impact on Yemen’s limited network of paved roadways. Approximately one-third of Yemen’s paved roads have been destroyed or closed due to the conflict. Floods and heavy rains have also caused extensive damage to road infrastructure, which has not been maintained for years, rendering many roads unfit for travel. As a result, people and motorists are forced to take alternative roads that are often unpaved, remote, and risky.

A car driving on a dirt road
The Dabsan Road in Radfan District, Lahj Governorate, before paving it. Photo: Ebrahim Mohammed/ CARE Yemen.

In Lahj Governorate, many primary and secondary roads pass through rough, rocky hills and highlands, making it navigable only by four-wheel drive vehicles. During the rainy season, floods wash away rocks and mud from the mountains to the roads, rendering them blocked for days until the floodwater dries up. During this time, communities’ access to basic services, such as health, education, and markets, is completely disrupted.

A man with a red shirt posing for a photo
Photo: Ebrahim Mohammed/ CARE Yemen.

Abdulmalik Hussein, a father of five children – two sons and three daughters – from the Dabsan area in the Radfan district of Lahj, explains: “The road from our area to the city, which is about 4 to 5 hours away, used to be very rough. Transporting a bag of flour used to cost over 5,000 Yemeni Rials (about 3.5 US dollars). The lack of safe roads means we cannot send our children to school. A few months ago, a car carrying 16 female students to school in the city slid down a steep slope due to the poor condition of the road. After that accident, I stopped my children from going to school because I didn’t want to compromise their lives for education.”

A man with a blue shirt posing for a photo
Photo: Ebrahim Mohammed/ CARE Yemen.

Fares Mohammed, a 40-year-old father of six children, is another resident of the Dabsan area. He works as a daily wage farmer. “Roads are very important to us farmers to deliver our crops to the market,” says Fares. “The condition of the road directly impacts our incomes and access to vital services such as water.”

Reminiscing how the unpaved road hampered residents’ access to healthcare, Fares says: “Once, a nine-month pregnant woman experienced complications during delivery, and we had to transfer her to the hospital, which is four hours away from our village. The rough road exacerbated her situation, and she ended up giving birth in the car before reaching the hospital. This mother’s life could have been lost due to the road; it was only by God’s mercy that she survived.”

A man with a green reflector jacket posing for a photo
Photo: Ebrahim Mohammed/ CARE Yemen.

Mazen Nabil, a 39-year-old farmer from the Musaiged area in Al-Maqatera District of Lahj Governorate, has always felt the suffering of the people in his area because of the rugged road that leads to their village and connects it with ten other nearby villages. He started an initiative to repair the road and succeeded in motivating the locals to work with him in paving some of the hazardous segments of the road using their limited resources.

“The road was a nightmare for the residents,” says Mazen. “Over the years, many people lost their lives due to car accidents caused by skids and rollovers on the poor road. The lack of a good road meant increased transportation costs for food items and patients, which was unaffordable for residents who are mostly unemployed or earned low daily wages. Although we were able to pave some rugged areas with our own efforts, we desperately required support in terms of skills, equipment, and machinery to pave the road properly.”

a group of men in safety vests and helmets using a jackhammer in a construction site
FFA project participants in Radfan District carve rocks for the new road. Photo: Elyas Al-Wazir/CARE Yemen.

CARE delivers a Food Assistance for Assets (FFA) project in Lahj Governorate. The FFA aid modality addresses the immediate food needs of vulnerable households through providing cash, vouchers, or food transfers while promoting the building or rehabilitation of community assets to improve long-term food security and resilience. The project supported residents in Radfan and Al-Maqatera Districts of Lahj Governorate to pave the road to their villages, gain rock carving and paving skills, and earn temporary income to buy food and other basic life essentials for their families.

a group of children walking on a stone road
Dabsan Road in Radfan District, Lahj Governorate, after paving it. Photo: Ebrahim Mohammed/ CARE Yemen.

“The new road is the lifeline of our area,” says Abdulmalik. “Traveling on the paved road is now easier and safer. The journey from our village to the city takes less than an hour. The protective walls also prevent children from falling off the cliff. I saved some money from the wage I earned during the pavement work, and I plan to send my children to school.”

“Living in a mountainous region, the paved road has helped water trucks reach our area and reduced transportation costs. Thanks to the project, I believe I can make income from the stone carving and paving skills that I acquired while working on the paving project,” adds Fares.

A stone staircase with a red and white stripe on it
The newly paved road in Al Maqatera District, Lahj. Photo: Tawfiq Saleh/ CARE Yemen.

“I never thought I would see small cars at our doorstep. The road is a dream that became a reality thanks to the hard work of the villagers who paved as much of the road as possible with the support of CARE and WFP. Generations to come will benefit from this road,” concludes Mazen.

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