Published on The Water Blog

Working together in the midst of an active conflict

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Water sanitation and hygiene in Yemen Water sanitation and hygiene in Yemen

Collaboration is critical more so now when there’s a global pandemic, particularly if development institutions are to provide the best assistance package so client countries can restore basic services, recover and build forward a better future for their people. 

A successful collaboration can address the country’s most pressing needs even in a midst of an on-going conflict. Coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress and working together is success. This statement rings especially true in a war-torn country like Yemen. 

Since early 2015, the country has been embroiled in conflict. One of the poorest country in the region even before the war escalated, nearly 20.5 million people lack access to WASH services. Yemen is also grappling with mass outbreaks of preventable diseases such as cholera, diphtheria, measles, and dengue fever as a result of the conflict. The country’s water sector institutions are also struggling with service delivery at the most basic levels.  COVID-19, recent flash floods, lack of electricity and fuel as well as unpaid salaries to civil workers further exacerbated these challenges. With 38 % of WASH facilities being damaged, the World Bank’s Third Damage and Needs Assessment for Yemen (2020) estimated that the recovery & reconstruction costs for water supply and sanitation are at $932 million over a five-year period.

At a recent virtual event, I was able to discuss with World Bank colleagues on how to address Yemen’s needs and priorities. The Bank’s intervention is carried out by multi-sectoral teams – working on Water, Urban, Health and Education – and given the complex situation in the country, WASH sub-components have been included in various health, urban and education projects, ranging in geographical coverage and scope for an integrated and sustainable approach.  

As Naif Mohammed Abu-Lohom, a Senior Water Resources Management Specialist, pointed out, ‘both the health EHNP and the Urban IUSEP projects are focusing on emergency responses for COVID-19 and water supply in urban and rural areas. Despite a decrease in WASH funding since 2018, almost 2.6 million and 1 million people now have access to safe water supply and sanitation services thanks to the health and urban projects respectively.’ By showcasing the collaborative work and synergies across sectors, he shared best practices on how to design water components in joint operations and highlighted success stories and innovations in doing so.

Working in a fragile and conflict-affected context certainly adds on a number of difficulties and multiple complexities to any given project. ‘2020 has been a rough year for Yemen, because of the conflict, the setbacks of the peace agreements, COVID, concerns over food security and an impending famine’, said Marina Wes, Country Director for Djibouti, Egypt and Yemen. However, she highlighted that the WASH project really is impacting people in the ground while making sure that the World Bank interventions put emphasis on institutional building components. ‘Indeed, our actions are more impactful and sustainable when we come together’, she added. 

Due to its geographical location within an arid to semi-arid zone, Yemen suffers from acute water scarcity coupled with serious incidents of flash flood. Ayat Soliman, Regional Director for Sustainable Development, Middle East and North Africa, explained that when the conflict started in the country, water and sanitation services almost stopped and people in the capital Sana’a used to get their water needs from water distribution points established at some location in the city by UN agencies and INGOs. With WB funding, and in response to cholera and COVID-19, 5000 solar panels have been installed and connected to 17 key productive wells in the capital in partnership with UNICEF and the Sana’a Local Water and Sanitation Corporation. They now allow regular access to safe and clean water every day for over 300,000 people.

Water sanitation hygiene Yemen

Unfortunately, the conflict in Yemen has also taken a toll on the state of human capital in the country. As noted by Keiko Miwa, Regional Director for Human Development, Middle East and North Africa, based on data from the Human Capital Index (2020), a child born in the Republic of Yemen today will be 37 percent as productive when he grows up as he could be if he enjoyed complete education and full health. Investing in WASH is to invest in human capital. For this reason, a WASH sub-component will be included in the upcoming Education Restoring Education and Learning (REAL) project led by UNICEF and other implementing agencies. Potentially covering six governorates, the aim is to rehabilitate school infrastructure including WASH facilities while providing support to educational institutions. 

Tania Meyer, Country Manager for Yemen, highlighted how impactful the World Bank program in Yemen is. ‘The engagement of the WASH team exemplifies what can be done in such a difficult context. Working in a conflict setting requires a high-risk tolerance, but the rewards are incredible too’, she said.

As we continue to strive for a water-secure space in the country, it is important to remind ourselves both the challenges of working in the midst of active conflict, as well as the meaningful impacts that come with passionate work. That’s why I believe it is worth collaborating and putting the effort of joining forces and delivering our very best knowledge and experience to our clients, especially in contexts of fragility, conflict, and violence. As the World Bank Group, we must remain focused on preserving basic services, strengthening the resilience of national institutions that deliver them, supporting people’s livelihoods, as well as the potential for economic recovery.


Carmen Nonay

Director of IEG's Finance, Private Sector, Infrastructure, and Sustainable Development Department, World Bank Group

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