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Toilets promote better health, dignity and safety

An old man and woman smiling

Saeedah and her husband are grateful for this aid that maintains dignity

Saeedah and her husband are grateful for this aid that maintains dignity

Access to safe water and sanitation is an absolute priority in Yemen. An estimated 15.4 million Yemenis require support to meet their basic water, hygiene and sanitation needs, including 8.7 million who are in acute need. Poor sanitation is one of the major public health risks in the country, with open defecation practiced by 4 million people – nearly 13% of the population.

75-year-old Saeedah lives with her husband, son, daughter-in-law and five grandchildren in Jabal Habashy district, one of the poorest areas in Yemen’s Taiz governorate. Ali, Saeedah’s son, was the sole breadwinner for the family, yet his kidney failure had prevented him from working. As a result, Ali’s sons, Awad (14 years old) and Muhannad (13 years old), have dropped out of school to work and support the family.

An old woman with a red scarf on her head
75-year-old Saeedah lives with her family in Jabal Habashy district, Taizz governorate

“I work in farms for twelve hours a day to help my family,” says Muhannad. “I’ve always dreamt of becoming a teacher so I can educate my children and other children in my village. Children are not supposed to work because it is dangerous. A scorpion stung me once while I was working on the farm. I could have died, but God protected me as usual,” he adds.

Saeedah’s family lives in a small unfurnished hut of clay. The visible cracks in walls make it easy for rainwater, wind and sunlight to seep into the shabby hut. There was no toilet in the house, which forced all family members to relieve themselves in the open. Although toilets are taken for granted, a lack of these humble fixtures puts peoples’ health and safety at risk and pollutes the environment. Without proper sanitation facilities, people often have no choice but to live in a contaminated environment, thereby put themselves at risk of contracting deadly diseases like COVID-19, cholera and diarrhea.

Ten years ago, Saeedah fell from the stairs and broke her leg while she was doing household chores. Due to the lack of transportation and medication costs, she couldn’t go to the hospital. Saeedah still suffers from the impacts of that incident. It is common for the elderly to suffer from several health problems, limiting their ability to move. And due to the lack of adequate toilets, the elderly often can’t meet their hygiene needs by themselves, which makes them embarrassed and uncomfortable.

“Both my husband and I suffer from leg injuries and feel embarrassed every time we need to defecate,” says Saeedah. “Even my young grandchildren have to wait for the morning to relieve themselves because they are frightened of going out in the dark and the dogs are out there.”

Pregnant women have to use the toilets more often, but they are ashamed to defecate in the open. Thus, they endure unbearable pain all day and wait for the night to relieve themselves in the dark, which exposes them to many protection risks. “My daughter-in-law suffers from urinary tract infections because she used to hold urine for a long time when she was pregnant,” says Saeedah.

CARE works to improve access to safe toilets and encourage good hygiene practices in Yemen. With funding from USAID, CARE supported 200 households in Jabal Habashy district of Taizz governorate to build toilets at their homes. Under the supervision of CARE’s engineers, families used the provided construction materials and built their own toilets so they can lead healthy, dignified lives.

Also, the intervention integrated hygiene promotion activities with toilets construction activity to create a lasting change. Targeted households were educated about handwashing, waste disposal, wearing masks and social distancing.

“Thanks to CARE and USAID,” says Saeedah. “This toilet protects our dignity. Whether it’s day or night, now we can relieve ourselves safely whenever we need to,” she concludes.

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