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Water Supply in a War Zone: A Preliminary Analysis of Two Urban Water Tanker Supply Systems in the Republic of Yemen

This discussion  paper  summarizes  the  results  and  implications  of  a  study  commissioned  by  the  World  Bank  to  conduct  a  rapid  assessment  of  the  state  of  private  water  tanker  supply  systems  in  two  Yemeni  cities,  Sana’a  and  Aden.  The  study  emanated  from  the  World  Bank’s  Water,  Sanitation,  and  Health  (WASH)  Poverty  Diagnostic  for  the  Republic  of  Yemen,  which  identified  serious  gaps  in  access  to  basic  water  and  sanitation  services  (World  Bank  2017).  A  combination  of  poverty,  water  scarcity,  armed  conflict,  and  warfare  has  produced  serious  challenges  for  both  water  supply  and  sanitation  in  Yemen.  Despite  this  urgency,  little  recent  data  is  available  on  the  state  of  the  country’s  water  supply  and  sanitation  systems,  in  large  part  because  key  parts  of  the  country  remain  inaccessible  due  to  active  conflict.  The  study  described  in  this  discussion  paper  accordingly  presents  one  of  the  only  detailed,  survey-based  assessments  of  water  supply  and  sanitation  in  an  active  war  zone.  While  it  is  based  on  a  partial  rather  than  a  systematic  survey,  it  highlights  a  number  of  key  aspects  of  Yemen’s  urban  water  supply  and  sanitation  situation.  First,  as  a  result  of  preexisting  challenges  exacerbated  by  recent  conflict,  there  is  a  considerable  gap  in  the  urban  water  supply  sector.  Second,  this  gap  is  being  filled  largely  by  private  tanker  trucks,  on  which  urban  Yemenis  are  increasingly  dependent.  Third,  while  the  tanker  truck  system  plays  a  critical  role  in  filling  this  gap  in  the  formal  water  supply  system,  it  raises  serious  questions  with  respect  to  affordability,  health,  environment,  and  water  resources  management.  Overall,  the  study  suggests  the  need  for  urgent  interventions  to  improve  water  supply  and  sanitation  in  Yemen’s  two  largest cities.

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