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Residents of Sanaa slum battle disease, lack of water

Over 17,000 people live in squalid conditions in Mahwa Aser, one of the poorest slums in Sanaa.
(Mohammed al-Jabri/IRIN)

Salwa Mohammed Hassan, her sick husband and seven children live in one of the poorest slums in Sanaa, known as Mahwa Aser.

According to a local leader who preferred anonymity, Mahwa Aser has a population of over 17,000 living in some 1,500 haphazardly constructed stone houses and tin shacks without basic services and asphalt roads. A local doctor said 70 percent of residents had diseases of one sort or another.

The 60-year-old mother said she and her husband came from the western province of al-Hudeidah 10 years ago after they found living there too difficult: “We came here and built a small, simple house, which cost us around 500,000 riyals (US$2,500). We still have debts to pay.” She says her only source of income is begging.

Ameen Jamaan, deputy mayor of Sanaa, told IRIN the local authorities were planning to re-house Mahwa Aser residents, but could not say when. “Just as we have found solutions for three similar neighbourhoods, we will do the same for this one,” he said.

Mohsen al-Fakhri, chairman of al-Taam [food] Association, a local non-governmental organisation, told IRIN the government was always threatening to demolish the houses in Mahwa Aser, as the land belonged to it. “But construction is going on as people are still coming to settle here,” he said.

Water, sanitation problems

Watch IRIN video
 Yemen- Al-Mehwar slum

The main problem the locals face is the lack of piped water. People have to buy water from water tankers at 30 riyals for a 20-litre water container, al-Fakhri said, adding that the government would not connect the area to the water supply network as it did not want the residents to stay there.

Only 50 houses are connected to a sewage system, according to al-Fakhri. “The government doesn’t want us to stay here and that is why it has not set up water and drainage networks,” he said.

Photo: Mohammed al-Jabri/IRIN
Salwa Mohammed Hasan, 60, says living in a haphazardly constructed area with an unhealthy environment is like living forcibly in hell

Health impact

Diarrhoea, measles, flu, malaria, and meningitis are common in the area, said Mohammed Abdu, who runs the area’s only clinic, which has also treated cases of typhoid and malnutrition. “The clinic cannot provide health assistance to the whole area,” Abdu said, adding: “Diseases are affecting 70 percent of the residents. It is a humanitarian disaster.”

The clinic was established by the al-Taam Association, assisted by a UK charity, in 2003 and provides free medical treatment to about 20 people a day. “Over five cases of malaria come in each day,” al-Fakhri said.

There is no school in Mahwa Aser, though the al-Taam Association in 2003 opened a small centre with six rooms where four teachers used to give literacy classes until resources ran out nearly a year ago.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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