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Drought displaces thousands in mountainous northwest

In rural areas sanitation services are difficult to set up, according to officials
In rural areas sanitation services are difficult to set up, according to officials (Mohammed al-Jabri/IRIN)

Drought has caused the displacement of thousands of people over the past 10 months from mountainous villages in al-Mahwit Governorate, some 113km northwest of Sanaa city, officials have said.

Hufash, one of al-Mahwit's nine districts, has been hit by drought over the past six months. Hufash includes 12 localities and is home to 40,000 people, according to the 2004 population census.

Abdul-Hamid al-Ashabi, head of Hufash's local council, told IRIN on 4 May that thousands of people had abandoned their homes and moved to the main cities. "The area is suffering from acute water shortages and drought. People depend on springs and rain. Rain has not fallen for almost a year," he said.

Some of those who have moved to cities have rented houses and others have moved in with relatives. Those who have moved to the valleys have erected huts. At present, it is difficult to assess how far they are overburdening local resources and services, said al-Ashabi, adding that most of the displaced could fend for themselves and required little assistance from the government.

Mohammed al-Aqabi, head of Hufash's Education Department, said the displacements had started in March.

"Hufash District is a series of mountains that cannot store water at all... People depend mainly on rainwater," he told IRIN. He said locals got water from a nearby valley some 19km away.

"They walk several kilometres to get a few litres of water a day. They just use water for drinking and 'wudu' [Muslim ablutions]. They cannot take a shower or wash their clothes. To do that they have to go to al-Mahwit city, two hours by car from here," he said, adding that water tankers could not reach the villages due to the rugged terrain and poor roads. "One thousand litres of water costs 5,000 riyals (about US$25). Animals have also been severely affected."

Water projects idle

''They walk several kilometres to get a few litres of water a day.''

Hufash local council head Al-Ashabi said there were two water projects in his district - started 18 years ago - but that the Urban Water Resources Authority had halted them as they were not being properly implemented.

He said the local council had tried to rehabilitate one of the projects but it had very limited resources. "The projects need millions of riyals... but our annual budget is no more than 70 million riyals (US$350,000)," he said.

The main crops in the area include `khat' [a mild narcotic], corn, coffee, and fruit, which all depended on rainfall. Farmers were unable to irrigate their crops, he said.


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:

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