A child suffers from orthopedic disability in the village of Marfad in Al-Dhalea

Al-Dhalea and the Fluoride Tragedy: When Drinking Poison is the Only Choice


Wed, 07-09-2022 04:35 PM, Aden

Raad Alrimi (South24)

On a motorcycle, we arrived at noon at Marfad village in the Southern governorate of Al-Dhalea. The dusty road was bumpy enough to leave fingerprints of fatigue on the passerby. However, the simplicity and the joviality of the people refresh the souls like the impact of the governorate's atmosphere.

Disable children and young people from the two genders suffer from rickets and bow legs as long as distorted black teeth which are about to fall apart. Here in Marfad, people drink fluoride-poisonous water which is ground extracted. This is due to the scarcity of water and its decreasing amount over years.

 It was an extremely touching scene when a child tried to stand up but her osteoporosis and weakness didn't allow her to do so. She needed the help of a man to do so. People know that this water kills them but their needs and helplessness have not left many options for them.

The Marfad village in Al-Dhalea (South24)

Marfad is a village in Al-Hussein district but it is not the only one which suffers this cruel problem. There are several villages and areas alongside it in Al-Dhalea such as (Al-Madina-Hajr-Al-Waara-Al-Hamoura-Al-Radoa- Lakmat Al-Ashoub-Al-Tafwa-Thawba)

Deep wells

According to locals, the paucity of rains over recent years in Marfad and other villages pushed people to deepen the underground wells which are dug by digging machines hired by citizens amid the absence of the state and the supposed governmental projects.

Ahmed Quaed, a teacher in a school in Marfad, told "South24" that "the village has witnessed a water crisis that pushed many people to deepen underground wells after they began to decrease. Digging reached a deep level where there are high percentages of fluoride as we have been told. 
In this regard, Abdulsalam Al-Jaabi, Deputy General of Al-Dhalea Environment Authority told "South24" that "the problem of the high fluoride percentage in the water of wells in Al-Dhalea didn't exist before but it has escalated each time people deepen a well ".

He added: "The wells passed through digging stages. They were dug to a depth of 150 meters from 1990-1997. People then began to deepen the wells to depths that varied between 300-400 meters between 1997-2000".

According to the official, “the depths of the wells exceeded 600 meters over the subsequent years. Recently, they reached the levels of 900 meters and 1100 meters in some wells where there are high percentages of fluoride in the water".

According to a report issued by the Ministry of Water and Environment in September 2021 and seen by "South24, laboratory tests revealed that the fluoride percentage in the drinking water in Marfad and other Al-Dhalea's villages reached 11.2.

This is a very high percentage in comparison with the healthy 1.5 determined by the World Health Organization for fluoride percentage in the drinking water. This recommended one enables this substance to achieve its useful role as a vital value for the human body that interacts bilaterally with the calcium element.

Moreover, "South24" obtained results of examining water samples from Marfad. People said that this was achieved through pure community efforts in laboratories in Sanaa. The results revealed a high percentage of fluoride that reached the level of 8.6.

A laboratory test in Al-Hafri Office shows a high fluoride percentage in the water of Marfad in Al-Dhalea

Dire consequences 

Regarding the dangerous impact on health caused by the water polluted by high fluoride percentage, orthopedic, neurosurgeon and spine specialist, Dr. Mujahid Al-Hussaini said that "the risks may cause quadriplegic to people under 50".

The specialist who owns a center for advanced orthopedic surgery in Aden told "South24" that "dozens of cases continuously come to us from Al-Dhalea villages. Such a thing became a health phenomenon that leads to children with dwarfism as well as curvature of their limbs and deformities of their teeth".

He added: "The fluoride accumulation in the bodies of citizens instead of Calcium leads to abnormal calcifications and softness in the bones which lead to the curvature of many limbs (feet and legs), tooth loss and jaw deformities.

He added: "This leads to the embolism of cervical and lumbar vertebrae which narrows the neural canal and the calcification of the underlying ligaments around it. This makes the therapeutic solutions almost impossible. This often leads to quadriplegic".

Dr. Khalil Al-Shoeibi, who works as an assistant to Al-Hussaini in his medical center, noted that "90% of the center's patients during the past year suffered from problems in their bones due to the drinking water that contains a high percentage of fluoride".

"South24" reporter in Al-Hussaini Center for Advanced Orthopedic Surgery in Aden.

Al-Shoeibi told "South24”: "About 30 of our daily patients have white lines in their skeletons as shown by CT scan because of the fluoride’s interaction with the vertebrae. The latter's color transforms to white like chalk."


CT scan in Al-Hussaini Center for Advanced Orthopedic Surgery for people with disabilities due to fluoride-contaminated water

Regarding the high costs needed to treat these cases, Al-Shoeibi said: “Opening the spine in order to filter the cervical and the lumbar canal is a very strenuous surgery whose costs are beyond the patients' financial capacity. Moreover, it may be futile due to the difficult nature of their cases".

The absence of the government 

Basically, three parties equally share the responsibility of the exacerbation of the fluoride-polluted water crisis in Al-Dhalea. They include the government, represented by the cabinet and the relevant ministries. Furthermore, they include the governorate’s local authorities and the international and civil society organizations.

According to locals interviewed by "South24", many delegations of organizations visited Marfad and other villages to examine the health tragedy. However, there has been no significant change. No solutions or treatments have been suggested according to the citizens.

"South24" contacted Ayad Saleh Abdullah Director General of Al-Dhalea Health Office to inquire about the role of the office and local authorities in the governorate towards the problem. The local official answered that he was recently appointed.

He added: "It has been nearly six months since I was appointed and I have not received any health reports in this regard. We are in the process of requesting reports from the directors of health offices in the districts."

As for Badr Abdulhamid, the Director General of Water Resources in Al- Dhali, there are no possible solutions or treatment for the problem of fluoride-contaminated water".

Abdulhamid told "South24" that "Solutions for treating the water problem in Al-Dhalea regarding the establishment of plants for filtering fluoride from water are futile ".

"All international organizations said that it is hard to undertake the costs of establishing plants or filters to purify water from fluoride because it is very expensive," he added.

He added: "These organizations managed to dig wells with less fluoride percentages and to use them for drinking. Water with highly-percentage of fluoride has been customized for other human use".

However, people in the villages described this type of solution as being "useless". They told "South24" that "this solution is futile as these wells quickly run out of water due to their little depth".

One of the wells which are funded by the organizations in Marfad in Al-Dhalea (South24)

In a statement to "South24", Ghazi Seif, General Manager of Rural Water in Al-Dhalea denied that there will be "no actual and practical treatments of water in Al-Dhalea that suffers from the high fluoride percentage".

The local official added: "The whole problem was conveyed to all governmental bodies, international organizations and the Ministry of Water. It was discussed in several local events without reaching any solutions or ways to separate fluoride from water.

He added: "All that was reached is filters that have been applied in some rural areas in a number of countries such as India. Obtaining this type of filter is tied with many hardships, foremost of which is its high cost".

The report, issued by the Ministry of Water and Environment suggests a set of treatments for the problem including organizing the digging operations in a scientific and calculated way in addition to enhancing the joint coordination between the relevant bodies with the need to establish plants or filters for treating water. 

So far, there has been no response from the official bodies in the governorate or the government. It seems that this humanitarian problem is far from the attention of the international organizations.
On the way back from Marfad to the city of Al-Dhalea, revolutionary breaths emit from the folds and ribs of the almost-black mountains. Across the main and sub-routes, one can see pictures and solid figures for Southern soldiers and leaders who died over the past years.

Despite its political and military extended deep-rooted presence, it seems that Al-Dhalea does not enjoy the same amount of supposed attention. Most of its people have very hard living conditions just like the people of Marfad village and its peers who drink underground poison.

Raad Alrimi

Journalist at South24 Center for News and Studies

South YemenAl-DhaleaWaterFluorideMedical disability