From helping small business owners get back on their feet, to securing water supplies, to building climate resilience, Fayad Al-Derwish explains how Oxfam in Yemen is supporting conflict-affected families through difficult times, in a blog for World Humanitarian Day
Last year, in the rainy season, Mohammed*, 22, a barber from Reef Ibb, was forced to close his shop. Heavy rains had caused widespread damage that he could not afford to repair. Mohammed – who is the sole breadwinner for his mother, brothers, and sisters, and has a physical disability – was faced with financial ruin.
But today, the shop is open again. With Oxfam’s support, Mohammed has repaired the ceiling, installed a chair and mirrors, and purchased shaving supplies, including scissors, a shaving machine and sterilisers.
“Receiving cash support gave me the flexibility to add more money by re-opening my barber shop,” says Mohammed.
Such support that builds resilience through tough times is hugely needed in Yemen, which faces one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.
Since the escalation of hostilities in 2015, 19,000 civilians have been killed in the conflict, over four million have been displaced and more than 21 million people need humanitarian assistance. Economic collapse has led to widespread hunger, further worsening conditions for millions of people who are wondering where their next meal will come from.
The effects of climate change and environmental degradation are also being felt. The risks of flooding, drought, and severe sandstorms have been present across the country, with an increase in deforestation and desertification causing more harm. Oxfam in Yemen and our partners are working to support communities build resilience to the many shocks with which they are faced.
A recent four-month emergency initiative in Ibb Governorate, central Yemen, funded by the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), set up three projects that supported conflict-affected families and revived their businesses’ resilience.
1. Building the resilience of small businesses
Oxfam has helped more than 250 families to start or reopen their own small business in two districts of Ibb governorate. Small projects such as barbers, tailors, butchers, carpenters and plumbers have been empowered and supported with emergency cash assistance.
Hadya*, 58, is a grocery shopkeeper in Ibb governorate. She is the sole breadwinner for her family of five sons, daughters and retired husband. The war made things even harder. “We were worried, our survival was threatened,” she said.
Before Oxfam’s emergency cash project, Hadya had closed her shop due to a lack of business. Her debts were growing, and she couldn’t keep up with payments, damaging her relationships with suppliers. Now, thanks to Oxfam’s livelihood cash support, she has been able to reopen and is now able to pay off debts and buy goods, and the community has also started asking for groceries again.
Hadya says: “After reopening my grocery store, I am finally able to provide for my children with food and expenses, and enrol my children back in school. I was also able to secure monthly lifesaving medicines for my husband.”
2. Enhancing resilience through solar-powered access to water
Many Yemeni rural communities rely on unsanitary and unreliable water sources, which leaves them especially vulnerable to droughts or storms. Through this DEC-funded project, Oxfam installed sustainable, solar-powered water systems as a reliable source of fresh water in four rural communities in Reef Ibb district. This included switching from diesel-powered to solar-powered water pumping systems to provide water for large communities.
Installing these systems is just the start. True resilience building means ensuring the financial and operational sustainability of these solar-powered water systems – and helping to spread the benefits by promoting this technology in other communities.
Oxfam has trained four water committees of local beneficiaries to work on managing and maintaining the new solar water projects; and it has worked to strengthen networks that link institutions, communities, and private suppliers to support the maintenance of the new solar pumping infrastructure.
Access to clean water sources has been a historical issue for rural communities across Yemen. Moa’ad*, one of our beneficiaries, said: “This support must continue: a person can survive with little food for some time but it is impossible to live without clean water, it is key to our survival. This project Oxfam implemented will make our lives much easier – I can say that here at Bani Moharram village, [we] are spared the burden of walking distances to the nearest water source when we are out of fuel to pump water. Thanks to Oxfam for this crucial support.”
3. Building resilience to climate shocks
Over the past decade, climate shocks have become frequent in Yemen and one of the key challenges that further exacerbate what is already one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. And it is the most vulnerable people – who are least responsible for its causes – who bear significant losses. Last month, torrential rains and flooding hit several areas across the country, causing extensive damage to public infrastructure such as sewage systems, shelters for displaced people, and other property. Initial reports also indicate that flash floods killed or injured dozens of civilians.
Through the Protection Cash Assistance project, Oxfam supported many families to help protect themselves against climate shocks. For example, a newly built house in the Sahoul area, of rural Ibb district, had been damaged by the floods. Oxfam supported the woman living in the house with her sons and daughters with a cash voucher to help them build a protection wall to help protect them from future floodings.
But there is so much more that can be done to protect fragile communities and infrastructure. So, our next challenge is to ask donors to provide more assistance to confront the effects of climate change, as well as coping with the effects of the deadly war.
Listening to communities
A priority of this work has been to really listen to communities. Selecting who and where to target for assistance has been done in partnership with communities. Together, we worked to rank districts based on vulnerability criteria, including proximity to markets, income options, access to water, and access to assistance. Then at the smaller, sub-district and village level, local authorities and community leaders worked with us on another round of mapping and ranking. This process ensures that the most vulnerable communities are targeted but also enhances the community’s access to services.
These examples show that we can enhance resilience – with meaningful community involvement – even in emergency and short-term projects. In fact, these successes should encourage mainstreaming resilience in future projects in Yemen. We need to make sure that all the support we provide as aid organisations doesn’t just help in the short term; we can and should always also support people’s capacity to cope with Yemen’s uncertain future.
This blog has also been published on Oxfam International’s Medium channel
*Names may have been changed to protect people’s identities.