Water Resources at the Centre of conflict in Taizz Governorate in Yemen

6 Feb 2024 by The Water Diplomat

On the 16th of January, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released its World Report 2024 which makes mention of direct attacks on water infrastructure by parties to the conflict in Yemen. According to HRW, both Houthi and Yemeni government forces have violated residents’ right to water in the governorate of Taizz since the Houthis laid siege to it 2015. In fact, the division of the governorate between Houthi armed forces and Yemeni government forces has been in place since 2015, and according to HRW, control over water resources has been a centerpiece of the conflict. Separately, the UN reports  that research at Sanaa University has indicated that 70-80 of conflicts in Yemen are over water.

In its December 2023 report on the situation in Taizz, HRW notes that of the water sources, facilities, and services that Taizz residents previously relied on are inoperable due to war-inflicted damage, salinization issues, or continuous electricity outages due to a lack of fuel that causes water pumps to cease functioning. While the combined capacity of water sources in Taizz before the conflict is estimated at 23,070 m³/day, this has declined to 4,760 m³/day currently.

Two of the five river basins supplying Taizz governorate with water, states HRW, are under control of the Houthi forces. Two others are on the frontlines of the conflict. The Yemeni government controls the boreholes in and around Taizz city. Houthi forces have prevented the water resources under their control from flowing into government controlled Taizz city. Meanwhile, HRW reports that government forces have taken direct control over wells in Taizz city and are selling the water to citizens for their own profit.    

In 2022, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) highlighted a combination of underinvestment in water infrastructure and the protracted conflict as the two main causes of the water crisis in Yemen. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) reported last year that an estimated 21.8 million people in Yemen (some two thirds of the population) were in need of humanitarian aid 17.8 million people lack access to safe drinking water.