Current gov’t policies don’t solve Yemen’s looming water crisis [Archives:2008/1184/Health]

August 25 2008

Saddam Al-Ashmori
For The Yemen Times

Yemen faces huge dangers pertaining to water security and its government policies aren't responding to this danger, according to participants at a seminar organized last Wednesday by the Saba Center for Strategic Studies on “Water security in Yemen: challenges and treatment.”

The participants maintained that practical solutions should be implemented in order to solve the current and future water crisis. They suggested that redrawing the historical agricultural map where Yemeni farmers have worked and adapted to water resources in the past will help determine solutions for how to utilize both surface and underground water.

Sana'a University economics professor Nasser Al-Awlaqi believes Yemen's water crisis results from government policies followed since the 1970s focusing on expanding agricultural areas that depend on limited water resources. As a result, the water reserve was drained.

However, Al-Awlaqi pointed out that the situation can be controlled if both water supply and demand are managed “by decreasing water consumption and agriculture in Sana'a basin through coordination between the government and farmers.” He added, “We should realize that the water situation in Yemen is dangerous, as there is an approximate 1 billion cubic meter shortfall between supply and demand.”

Al-Awlaqi noted that considering water desalination as a solution for Sana'a is difficult, given Yemen's current economic situation. “We shouldn't rely on desalination as an alternative solution to the water crisis in Sana'a, as such a solution only applies to coastal cities. For Sana'a, it's nearly impossible to supply it with desalinated seawater because the project is too costly, particularly within the current economic situation and the nation's limited capabilities.”

Sana'a University geology professor Mohammed Al-Duba'ie indicated that population density is one reason for the water crisis in Sana'a. He suggested decreasing the capital city's population from the current 2 million to only 800,000 in an effort to limit its water consumption. He added that a strategic national plan should be put in place concerned with the situations in both the Sana'a and Taiz water basins.

The participants said that lack of technology such as radars and satellites causes speculation about the actual water reserve, maintaining that such devices should be provided because they are minute in determining environmental problems, in addition to helping experts determine suitable remedies, plans and alternatives.

To help find a solution to Yemen's water crisis, the participants recommended the following:

– Treating wastewater

– Moving from a centralized to a decentralized system with regard to handling water usage.

– Thoroughly discussing the water crisis in Sana'a

– Growing crops convenient for existing water quantities

– Controlling water contamination factors

– Focusing on rain-fed agriculture and renewing agricultural terraces

– Increasing social awareness about the water crisis via the media

Yemen is experiencing an aggravating water crisis due to a shortage of underground water. Experts say that some basins, including Sana'a basin, will face complete depletion within two decades, especially given that Yemen lacks rivers and lakes.

Sana'a and Taiz are the top Yemeni governorates experiencing water shortage in their basins. Located 240 kilometers south of Sana'a, Taiz government has suggested several solutions to the crisis, including bringing in desalinated water from the Red Sea or supplying the area water from nearby basins.

A report issued by the General Authority for Rural Area Water confirms that affected residents living in Sana'a depend upon water trucks that fetch water from areas as far as 6 kilometers from the city, with each home using no more that 20 liters of water per day. It further noted that agriculture in these areas has stopped completely due to lack of water.

Ali Al-Raimi maintains that he spends more than YR 3,000 every month on buying water. “I live in Sana'a and I have to buy water because the water we get through the public water project isn't enough,” he said, adding, “If we didn't buy water from the water truck every week, we wouldn't have any water at all.”

According to the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation web site, water decreases in most Yemeni basins between 1 and 8 meters annually. If such draining continues, complete depletion is likely in most such basins within 15 to 50 years as water demand exceeds supply.

Official statistics on water consumption in Yemen reveal 3.5 billion cubic meters used annually, meaning that there's an annual water shortage of more than 1 billion cubic meters. Such quantity is consumed from underground water reserves and is not recovered.

The web site reports that there are 14,000 water wells in Sana'a, which is 10 percent of the entire country's wells. The basin's area is only 1 percent the size of the agricultural area and it supplies only 80 million cubic meters of water every year.

However, annual water consumption in Sana'a basin is 219 million cubic meters, 176 million cubic meters of which is used for agriculture, while 37 million is for household use and 6 million for industries.

Despite seasonal rains that often cause flooding in some areas, the World Bank places Yemen among the world's poorest nations in terms of water resources. Yemen depends on 45,000 wells, which deplete its already limited water resources due to mismanagement and lack of modern irrigation.

Rainwater and other sources replenish less than three-fourths of the underground water consumed in Yemen. Each individual share of this quantity of water is 150 cubic meters, compared to 1,250 cubic meters per person in other Middle Eastern and South African nations. This represents only 3 percent of an individual portion of water in the world.

A previous World Bank study attributed the aggravation of the water crisis in Yemen to the inactive role of incumbent bodies within the government, further noting that 40 percent of the nation's water is wasted.

According to the WB, Yemen's water crisis negatively affects its economic reforms and efforts to combat poverty.

In this regard, the WB study suggested a group of measures to help Yemen face its water crisis, the most important of which is conducting a national dialogue to discuss the dangers of water scarcity, in addition to promoting the role of institutions concerned with this field, in cooperation with donor organizations, to solve this crisis.