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Restoring dignity and rebuilding resilience of internally displaced people

A man and child sitting next to a tent

52-year-old Mabkhout with his young daughter Mariam in Alset camp. Photo: Abdulrahman Alhobishi/CARE

52-year-old Mabkhout with his young daughter Mariam in Alset camp. Photo: Abdulrahman Alhobishi/CARE

“Back home, I used to have a decent life,” says 52-year-old Mabkhout, a father of ten children – eight boys and two girls. For fifty years, Mabkhout used to live happily with his family on a piece of land that he inherited from his ancestors in Al Jeedan district of Marib Governorate. The family had a big house, livestock, and clean water coming from the small stream that flows through their village. Mabkhout depended on cultivation, livestock breeding, and collecting firewood to provide for his family. As the fighting approached his hometown, Mabkhout had to make the difficult decision of leaving everything behind in search of safety.

Mabkhout is one of four million internally displaced Yemenis who were forced to flee their homes since the eruption of the conflict in Yemen seven years ago. Nearly one million internally displaced people (IDPs) live in 1,589 sites, including camps and informal settlements, often lacking access to proper shelters, clean water, and basic health and sanitation services. Most IDPs in Yemen have been displaced for more than two years, and often multiple times, further overstretching their resources and exacerbating their vulnerabilities.

“Our determination to survive is stronger than this relentless conflict,” says Mabkhout. “I still remember how we ran off for our lives when the fighting broke out in our area. We walked for two days until we reached the Zabedah area empty-handed. In the beginning, the area seemed safe and away from the fighting, so we started to collect bushes and branches and built a temporary shelter to protect us from wild animals and harsh weather conditions.”

“We tried to cope with our new life in the Zabedah area for eight months, but it was unbearable,” he says. “Our humble shelter couldn’t withstand the strong winds and high temperatures of the desert. Moreover, we didn’t have enough food, water, healthcare, and other minimum necessities of life. We eventually decided to move again and settle in Alset camp in Al Wadi district of Marib Governorate. Displacement life is exhausting,” adds Mabkhout.

Marib Governorate in northeastern Yemen hosts an estimated one million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and thousands of migrants. Nearly 13,000 families have been displaced towards Marib in 2021, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).[1]  As the fighting escalated in different parts of Marib and Al Jawf governorates, more people fled to Al Wadi district, Marib’s remote eastern part.

Alset camp is one of 137 displacement sites in the Marib Governorate that are often overcrowded and lack basic services, including shelters, clean water, and safe sanitation facilities. Poor hygiene and sanitation conditions, combined with the high number of people living in camps, increase the risk of disease outbreaks among IDPs. Families in the camp struggle to access clean water for drinking, cooking, and washing. In addition to water shortage, families don’t have access to latrines, handwashing facilities, and hygiene items to maintain their health.

A group of men digging a hole in the sand
CARE staff monitoring the construction of family latrines in Alset camp. Photo: Abdulrahman Alhobishi/CARE

The lack of clean water and the spread of diseases are some of the hardships that displaced people – especially women and children who make up over 79 per cent of IDPs – face in the absence of sufficient water and sanitation infrastructure. The burden of collecting water often falls on women and children, who must walk long distances every day, the latter missing school as a result, and leaving them vulnerable to risky situations along the way.

With no nearby toilets, IDPs use fields, bushes, and other empty spaces to relieve themselves in the open. Children are more likely to defecate near their tents, and women have to wait until night to relieve themselves in the dark. Open defecation and uncollected waste scattered in the camp encourage vermin, flies, and mosquitoes to breed, increasing the spread of cholera, malaria, watery diarrhea, and dengue fever among camp residents.

“We have had to walk nearly two kilometers, multiple times a day, and sometimes at night, to find a safe, secluded place to relieve ourselves,” says Mabkhout. “My wife and my older daughters have had to resist their need to urine all day long to relieve themselves in the dark, which can cause infections, kidney diseases, and in some cases, a slow death. Yet, my young daughter couldn’t wait until the morning and needed to go outside the tent in the night while many poisonous insects are around.”

Years of conflict in Yemen have seriously damaged the country’s aging water and sanitation system infrastructure. Over 15.4 million Yemeni people require support to access their basic water and sanitation needs, of whom 8.7 million are in acute need. Four years ago, Yemen experienced the worst cholera outbreak in modern history. With poor water and sanitation services and inadequate living conditions, deadly diseases such as cholera, malaria, acute diarrhea, and the latest COVID-19 run rampant in IDP camps.

A man opening a door to a small house that has a sink fixed outside it
Mabkhout and his family are delighted to have a safe latrine near their tent. Photo: Abdulrahman Alhobishi/CARE

To improve basic living conditions and strengthen the resilience of conflict-affected communities in Yemen and families such as Mabkhout’s, CARE works to provide immediate water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) assistance for IDPs in Marib through rehabilitating water schemes, constructing latrines, and conducting hygiene promotion activities.

CARE constructed a water scheme that provides 290 displaced families with clean water. In addition to constructing family latrines with handwashing stations to preserve IDPs’ health and dignity, the project also provided families with much-needed hygiene items, including bar soaps, powder soap, sanitary napkins, and clean Jerrycans.

As proper hygiene behaviors are crucial to tackling communicable diseases among IDPs, CARE’s community health promoters (CHP) held public hygiene promotion activities to educate IDPs about best hygiene practices including safe water handling, food hygiene, proper use of latrines, regular handwashing.

“Now my little daughter can use the toilet anytime, especially at night,” says Mabkhout. “I used to bath once a week, but now I can bath whenever I want. Thanks to community health promoters, displaced families started to adopt a healthier lifestyle, keeping themselves and their water, food, and tents safe and clean.” 

A woman in a burka holding a paper in front of a portable toilet.
Community health promoters use Information Education Communication (IEC) Materials to educate IDPs about best hygiene practices. Photo: Abdulrahman Alhobishi/CARE
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