TAIZ, Yemen (Reuters) – Maamour al-Maktary takes pride in managing the only swimming pool in Yemen’s third largest city, Taiz, knowing that splashing in its turquoise water is a rare joy and release for the 2.6 million inhabitants.
The pool, which was built in the 1960s sees hundreds of visitors every week especially as temperatures soar to over 30 degrees. Water is scarce and Taiz is some 100 kilometres from the coast.
The heavily disputed city is divided between forces of the Saudi-backed government, the Iran-aligned Houthis and other Islamist militants, and has been a focus of Yemen’s war that has killed tens of thousands.
The swimming pool was forced to shut down with the start of the conflict in March 2015, but reopened its doors in February 2018. It charges 500 riyals (102.1 pounds) per person for entry, which can be a stretch for struggling Yemenis who have been left without salaries for years.
A recent cholera outbreak in Yemen has seen over 100,000 suspected cases since the beginning of 2019 according to the U.N. Al-Maktary is determined not to let it spoil people’s enjoyment of the pool.
“Turnout has not dropped at all… we continue to respect and follow the health and hygiene rules regarding chlorine,” said al-Maktary, who makes sure the chlorine doesn’t affect the swimmers.
“They take very good care of the pool, cleaning it of dirt daily, and changing the water weekly; so we aren’t worried by cholera,” said Taiz resident Sami al-Handaly.
“This is the only [pool] in Taiz where people can come to enjoy themselves and the water.”
More than 2 million people have been displaced in a conflict that has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine and brought the economy to its knees.
(Reporting by Reuters Television; Writing by Alexandra Hudson)