Cairo, May 26 (IANS/EFE) Nearly two-thirds of the Yemeni population, a total of 16 million people, live without access to drinking water due to air strikes, armed clashes, and lack of fuel in the country, charity group Oxfam warned on Tuesday.

“People are being forced to drink unsafe water as a result of the disintegration of local water systems, bringing the real risk of life-threatening illnesses, such as malaria, cholera, and diarrhoea,” Oxfam said in a statement.

“Millions are digging unprotected wells or relying on water being trucked in – although the latter option is no longer available to most Yemenis. Oxfam data from four governorates shows that the price of trucked water has now almost tripled,” the charity group said.

Before the escalation of the current conflict in Yemen, there were 13 million people who went without access to clean drinking water, thus an already big problem has simply been made worse.

“If the fighting, the fuel shortages, the lack of medical supplies, lack of sleep due to bombing, and the spiraling prices were not enough, now nearly two-thirds of Yemenis are at risk of being without clean water or sanitation services,” Grace Ommer, country director for Yemen Oxfam, said.

“This is equivalent to the populations of Berlin, London, Paris and Rome combined, all rotting under heaps of garbage in the streets, broken sewage pipes and without clean water for the seventh consecutive week,” Ommer added.

Large parts of the water supply network have been damaged due to fighting between Houthi rebels and forces loyal to Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, in addition to the air raids launched by the Saudi Arabia-led Arab coalition.

Fuel costs and availability have factored into the water shortages as well: “Local authorities in 11 cities (including Aden, al-Hodeidah and Sanaa) have appealed to humanitarian organisations to provide them with more than two million litres of fuel needed to continue pumping water to the millions that rely on their water supply systems,” the statement added.

According to the statement, “residents in Taiz have told Oxfam that they are suffering a severe water shortage and are relying on trucks. But a lack of fuel and fighting in the streets means that it takes 4-5 days to get water delivered and the prices have increased exponentially”.

“Yemen needs an urgent ceasefire, and the opening of trade routes so vital supplies can enter the country to allow for the rebuilding and revamping of the water infrastructure. Anything short of this will usher a health disaster to add to the pile of miseries that Yemenis are facing,” Ommer added.

The conflicting parties agreed this month on a five-day humanitarian ceasefire, but it was ultimately ineffective, in part because necessary mechanisms to deliver and distribute aid were not in place.