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These Concerned Citizens in Yemen are Making Their Community More Sustainable

Three pairs of gloves hands plant flowers in a recycled tire.

Photo Credit: Ammar Al-Hajj/CARE

Photo Credit: Ammar Al-Hajj/CARE

After noticing how attitudes toward waste were affecting his small community, Ismail and a group of friends set out clean up the streets and make their neighborhood greener.

For more than six consecutive years, Yemen has suffered from ongoing armed conflict that has had a significant impact on all aspects of life in the country. Infrastructure damage from the conflict, the effects of climate change and natural hazards have led to escalating sanitation crisis.

According to the WASH cluster, only 9% of households across Yemen report garbage collection through a public system. Due to fuel shortages, local solid waste management providers operate irregularly and require support to ensure continuity. With the environmental risks looming over Yemen, plastic waste threatens the public health system and the environment.

“While roaming around in my neighborhood one day,” says Ismail Zabarah, a resident in Sana’a city, “I noted plastic bottles and tires thrown everywhere, causing the spread of disease among the neighbors, particularly children.”

of Yemeni homes report access to public garbage collection

One of the bad habits that children often practice in many areas in Yemen is burning tires as a symbol of joy and happiness, particularly before the Eid celebrations. This practice causes serious health issues for children and residents in the neighborhood who inhale the toxic fumes.

Ismail recalls an incident when he asked children not to burn tires. “On the eve of a Eid, my brother helped his friends by collecting tires to burn and jump over them. While he was jumping, he fell down and burnt his foot,” he recalls. “The whole family’s happiness turned into sadness. My family had to spend the Eid holidays in hospital to treat my brother. All the people were enjoying their Eid time while we were sad and hoping that my brother would get better.”

Poor management of solid waste also poses a real danger to the health of residents. The contaminated waste contains hazardous chemicals that can cause disease, including cholera, dengue fever and the latest, Covid-19. Although recycling is fairly new in Yemen, a small-scale effort to recycle plastic, metal and glass has begun recently. Street cleaners and waste collectors gather plastic, metal and other reusable materials from the streets and sell them to merchants. Merchants then send the compost to factories for recycling.

Speaking about his community initiative to help the locals in his area, Ismail says, “I informed a group of friends in the neighborhood about the recycling initiative to clean the area, and they delightfully agreed to help. However, we didn’t have the needed expertise to team up and work toward that goal.

With funding from Reach Out To Asia (ROTA), CARE supported youth initiatives in Amanat Al Asimah governorate to tackle key challenges in their communities. Through the Foundation for Yemen’s Future project, CARE built the capacity of 75 participants to start their community initiatives.

“Thanks to CARE, we trained and got the necessary skills to launch our initiative,” says Ismail. “We learned a lot about recycling, how to be a recycling advocate and organize within the community to start the implementation process.”

Ismail and his friends work to collect unused tires, clean them and use them as planters to beautify their neighborhood. In addition, the group distributed saplings and educated the recipients on the importance of planting trees and how to take care of them. “While we were planting the saplings, the community members were so cooperative and helped us in collecting tires and planting the saplings,” adds Ismail.

“I hope that we can receive more support and training sessions. I also hope that the idea of recycling and planting spreads all around Yemen,” he says.

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