No political will to implement water strategy or law, minister says [Archives:2007/1036/Front Page]

March 26 2007

SANA'A, March 24 ) Water has become Yemen's biggest problem, especially given its high population growth rate as well as government failure to implement the 2005 water strategy, officials and experts said Saturday at the launch of the 2006 Human Development Report.

“Yemen is one of the world's poorest countries regarding water resources,” Minister of Water and Environment Abdul-Rahman Al-Eryani noted, “and unfortunately, it's one of the least competent nations in water usage, whether for irrigation or drinking.

“The root of the problem lies in mismanagement. We must have a clear road map,” the minister said, adding that the state failed to apply the National Water Strategy approved two years ago.

“There's no political will to enforce either the water law or the water strategy at the national level. Thus, we appeal to the political leadership to have mercy on the people and apply both the law and strategy, thereby improving water management,” Al-Eryani urged.

The minister revealed that while there are 950 water drillers, the government has registered only 150 within the past two years. “The Yemeni government has failed to control drillers, even the registered ones,” he said.

Total annual renewable water resources in Yemen are estimated at 2.4 billion cubic meters, which amounts to little more than 125 cubic meters per person annually, as compared to the Middle East and North Africa average of 1.250 cubic meters per person.

According to Deputy Minister of Planning Yahya Al-Mutawakel, the problem exceeds scarcity in many areas of the country. “This situation has aggravated numerous problems and challenges: poverty, motherhood and childhood, a weak agricultural economy and increased internal migration. Water scarcity also reduces investment opportunities,” he said.

Al-Mutawakel added that weak planning and management, widespread use of traditional means and lack of modern means to use and conserve water resources all contribute to Yemen's water crisis.

UNDP Resident Representative Flavia Pansieri says Yemen's water supply is constrained due to its location on the Arabian Peninsula, adding that “Up to 80 percent of new wells in the [Yemeni] highlands are used for qat cultivation.” She noted that the 2006 Human Development Report shows that Yemen placed 150 out of 177 countries on the Human Development Index, thus making a little bit of progress.

Lacking large rivers or lakes, Yemen's main water supply comes from rainfall or groundwater, which already face overexploitation. At the end of 2005, only 58 percent of the urban population and 37.5 percent of the rural population had access to safe water. The discrepancy between water consumption and available resources was more than 1,000 Mm. in 2005 and the figure increases annually.