Conflict Article

A heavy responsibility: Seham’s daily walk for water

At only 12 years old, Seham has a very important job — on which her whole family depends.

Every day, Seham takes her plastic jugs and waits in a long line to fill them with water before carrying the heavy containers back home to her family. In these photos, Seham takes us along on her daily trek through the streets of old Sana’a, the heart of the Yemeni capital, where many children like her must take extreme measures just to get the basics they need to survive.

Photo gallery

Seham leaves first thing in the morning with her friend Fatima. Her mission: get to the neighborhood’s main water tank early so she’s at the front of the long queue. Seham tries to collect enough water for her family’s drinking, laundry and cooking as quickly as possible so she can get to school on time.

She is often late, however, and has to go alone, or may not even be able to attend class. Her daily journey has been easier since the Yemeni Red Crescent helped install a new water source in her neighborhood. Still, the process demands stamina, patience and sacrifice.

“Too often, I stand in the water queue instead of sitting behind my school desk”
Seham

“War and fear are the things we have to keep in mind as children, along with the responsibilities placed on us, like having to stand for many hours in the water distribution lines,” says Seham. “Unfortunately, that is our way of life and we don’t remember anything else.”

More than half of Seham’s life has been lived under the shadow of war. She is one of about 15 million Yemeni children living through what many humanitarian organisations call the world’s largest humanitarian disaster. The Water Points Project, with assistance from the Red Crescent Society, aims to lighten some of the load for Yemeni families in neighborhoods with limited access to safe and clean drinking water.

A moment of triumph! That’s the moment Seham reaches the front of the line in the long queue for water. “This moment deserves to be documented every day and I even share it on Facebook. It is a moment that always makes me feel happy,” says Seham.

More than 20 million people urgently need clean water and access to sanitation and hygiene supplies in Yemen. As part of its emergency response, the Yemeni Red Crescent has provided water points in seven governorates (Sana’a Municipality, Sana’a Governorate, Dhamar, Amran, Hajja, Al Mahwit, Ibb), helping nearly 33,000 families each year.

When Seham finishes school she sets out on her second journey of the day, carrying as many water cans on her wheelbarrow as she can. This time, she goes from neighbourhood to neighbourhood trying to collect enough water to clean the family’s clothing.

Laundry day is like playing treasure hunt as I try to find water in one neighborhood or another. I think of the heavy weight of my wheelbarrow loaded with water-filled cans as the treasure that I’ve won at the end of the day.

After Seham brings the water home, she ensures it is used efficiently.

“I remember when Corona was going around and everyone was talking about the need to wash your hands often. It was difficult for us to waste so much water to ensure that our hands are clean. We struggled to save water for the other essential purposes at home.”

The Yemeni Red Crescent and its partners are also implementing relief and emergency preparedness programmes throughout Yemen, including the provision of clean water, the distribution of personal hygiene kits (containing soap, towels, buckets and water jars) and carrying out positive interventions related to water, sanitation and hygiene to assist vulnerable people.

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