Minister of Water to Yemen Times:”Water prices in cities will rise” [Archives:2003/659/Health]

August 14 2003
Minister of Water and Environment Dr. Mohammed al-Iryani
Minister of Water and Environment Dr. Mohammed al-Iryani
Mohammed Al-Qadhi
There are several reasons standing behind the growing water shortage crisis in Yemen, mainly in some cities like Sana'a and Taiz. The minister admits that on top of these reasons is a very poor management of the water resources. ” We have fragmented institutions, poor coordination, and a very limited control of access to the resources,” Dr. Iryani told the Yemen Times. He points out that his ministry was newly established to remedy the situation by mainstreaming the various institutions working in the center to work according a joint vision for solving the problem.
A high population annual growth rate of 3.5 percent has led to an increase in the demand for food and has caused migration to cities which-which have grown at twice the national population rate. As a result, the demands for irrigated farms and thirsty cities have been further compounded by the need of industrialization and the further reduction in the supply of fresh water in some areas due to polluted aquifers.
Qat is a major factor responsible for the accelerating water shortage. The qat tree consumes a great amount of water accounting to 20-30% of the water consumption.
The minister says that his ministry can do nothing about the limited water resources. “The only thing we can do is to control the demand on water. And this is where we are working through public awareness, conservation measures, protection of quality and other activities that aim to reduce the use of water and increase efficiency particularly in the agricultural irrigation,” he said. ” We have about 90% of water used in irrigation. If we can increase the efficiency of water used in irrigation, say, by 10%, it means that we have doubled the 10% which is available for drinking and other uses,” he said.

Inefficient irrigation a problem
In the Sana'a basin, the total ground water pumped is about 24 million cubic meters per year. The renewable resource is about 40 million which means it is six fold over the renewable resources. About 40% of the pumped water is used for irrigation. ” If we can reduce the waste in the 80% by 10%, it means that we have doubled more or less the amount of water available for drinking, if we increase the efficiency by 20%, it also means that we are reducing depletion of water, making more water available for drinking. In this way, water shortage in cities will be reduced to a great extent,” Dr. Iryani elaborated. However,
The minister dismisses the idea that Sana'a residents will leave the capital because of water shortage. He stresses that professionals were warning about the seriousness of water shortage crisis in the capital since the 1970s. ” I do not think that we will reach the point of leaving the city because of lack of water; maybe because of the increasing cost of water. Water will become very expensive,” he said.
” The Sana'a basin produces enough water for drink; 40 million cubic meters of renewable water is more than sufficient for the city for drinking. The problem is with irrigation; if the farmers eventually will find that it is more attractive to sell water for drinking than growing qat or other corps, the solution will come from here and maybe this is what has been happening over the last years. The growing of agriculture in the Sana'a basin has been affected by the movement of water from irrigation to drinking use,” he pointed out clearly.
For this, the ministry of water, according to Dr. Iryani, is carrying out several projects like the Sana'a basin water project. It aims at providing the farmers with highly technologically pipes for irrigation instead of the open earth channels, helping them increase efficiency of water irrigation.
“We are also working on the re-use of the waste water coming out of the plant so that the farmers can use that water after treatment for irrigation of non-eatable crops,” the minister said.

Good governance of water needed
To help Yemen achieves a good governance of water resources and resolve conflicts over water, the UNDP through the National Water Resources Authority established in 1995, a Water Law was passed in August 2002. It sets the rules and regulations for water usage and defines specific rights and penalties. Dr. Iryani said the by-law has been completed and would be forwarded soon to the cabinet to be approved off. “Very soon we will have a registration system for drilling companies. We will have also license enforcement and if the contractors drill without licenses, we can penalize them as we have now the law that gives us this power. In this way, we will have the privilege to enforce the law,” the minister pointed out.
Dr. Iryani does not believe that conflicts over water right in Yemen are that serious, pointing out that such conflicts erupts at the national and international levels. ” There are local conflicts between communities or individuals on water right. It is natural that conflicts over water occur”, he said, adding ” the purpose of the ministry if to alleviate the situation and the law will help in preventing the development of conflicts.”
Some international agencies and donor countries are involved in supporting Yemen sort out water shortage problems. ” We have excellent relation and cooperation with the World Bank, UNDP and other donors like the Germans, Japanese and the Dutch. The Canadians and Americans are coming in. These are funding various water projects, contributing to the water projects we are implementing either in the water supply area or water management, in the rural or urban sectors, environment or waste water,” the minister said. He said that there are over 50 projects being implemented in cities and secondary cities in the country with support of various donors.