Recent workshop in TaizResearches tackle water shortage [Archives:2005/818/Community]
By Yemen Times News Services
Yemeni officials and researchers are looking to rainwater as a primary solution to the water shortage problem in the city of Taiz, 260 km south of the capital, Sana.
A recent two-day workshop, organised by the Environment Studies and Society Service Centre (ESSSC) at the University of Taiz, in collaboration with the Ministry of Water and the local al-Saeed Foundation for Sciences and Culture, stressed the importance of setting up dams and cisterns to collect water for drinking, after being refined, and also for agriculture.
“The workshop discussed practical and scientific solutions to the Taiz water crisis, coming up with important recommendations, mainly conducting hydrological and geophysical studies into the water resources in various parts of the city, evaluating the quantity of water reserves as well as future water resources,” Dr Shawqi al-Selwi of the ESSSC told IRIN from Taiz.
During the workshop – entitled “Taiz Water: Reality and Ambition” – issues focusing on the geological situation of Taiz, pollution, administrative and management problems and environmental awareness were discussed.
Participants recommended that the drilling of wells in the area should be stopped, as people were drilling themselves and consuming underground water reserves, thus affecting aquifers. At the moment wells are being drilled down to a depth of 1,000 metres.
Other recommendations include the modernisation of the current water-pipe network to stop water mixing with sewage. The use of such contaminated water should be banned in fruit and vegetable irrigation, they agreed.
The Yemeni cabinet recently approved the rehabilitation of the water-pipe network, a project funded by the World Bank and the Yemeni government at a cost of US $1.4 million. According to Adel Magharef, director of the Taiz water authority, this would save much water that is being wasted due to misuse.
“The city of Taiz is stationed at the bottom of the Sabir mountain and can benefit a lot from the rainfall that can be used for several purposes,” Water Minister Dr Mohammed al-Iryani told the workshop earlier this week.
He conceded, however, that there was no “magic solution” to the problem.
“The Taiz water problem is at the top of our agenda. The city has got the lion's share of the World Bank loans aimed at the rehabilitation of the outrun water pipes network. This would cut the wastage of water, estimated at 40 percent at present,” the minister said.
Yemen faces a serious water crisis. Resources are low, even by Middle East standards, and the estimated per capita availability of renewable water resources was only about 133 cubic metres in 1994 and could be even lower now.
The figure for the Middle East and North Africa region is 1,250 cu.m. and the world average is 7,500 cu.m.
Water shortages are reaching emergency levels in some areas. According to a 2001 government report, there are absolute shortages in Taiz and Sana, where the public water supply is extremely limited. At the same time, water consumption continues to rise each year, and is now well above renewable water resources.
Surface water and rechargeable aquifers fail to provide enough water for both domestic use and agriculture, which accounts for 90 percent of water consumption.
Complete exhaustion of the natural water resources of the capital and its surrounding rural areas is threatened within 20 years if current patterns of consumption continue unchecked.
The collection of rainwater is another option to be explored. Rainfall ranges between 50 and 200 millimetres per annum in most areas of the country, rising to 800 mm per annum in exceptional cases in some regions.
Al-Iryani dismissed the possibility of refining sea water as a strategic solution to the problem due to its high cost. “The ordinary citizen cannot afford to pay US $7 per one litre of water,” he said.
However, he said the ministry was thinking of refining water in areas such as al-Hawban and al-Hawjalah in Taiz which have a lot of polluted water. He confirmed that experts were carrying out a study on this issue which could increase supplies by 30 percent.
The minister disclosed that the government was drafting a law banning the expansion of khat farming which is the major consumer of underground water.
Yemenis chew khat leaves, said to give a slow release of a chemical similar to amphetamines.
Conflict over water
The shortage of water has led to conflicts and the government has intervened in disputes that have erupted between people or tribes. In 1999, it took 700 soldiers to quell fighting that claimed six lives and injured 60 others in clashes between the villages of Al-Marzuh and Quradah, fighting over a local spring near Taiz.
In the dispute, the village of Al-Marzuh believed it was entitled to exclusive rights from a spring because it was located on their land.
However, Quradah, a neighbouring village, believed it had the right to the water based on a 50-year-old court verdict acknowledging their rights to the water.
Taiz, which now has a population of over 2 million, started facing a serious water shortage in the mid-1990s as the public water supply was available only every 20 days. It is now worse and is supplied just once every 40 days, compared to every two weeks in Sana.
This has forced local people to send their children to line up in long queues to get water from mosques, which usually have their own supply, as well as wells. The increasing shortage has pushed people not only in Taiz, but in other cities like Sana, to build up a private water tank in every newly-built house to ensure a continued supply.
Mahmoud Abdu told IRIN he uses a cart to carry 20 containers for family use and his fathers restaurant. “I bring 15 containers for the restaurant and five for the house every day, starting at 5pm and finishing at 8.30 pm. The government water service comes for three days a month only,” Abdu explained.
“I have borrowed this donkey from my neighbour to carry water for the family as it is far from our house. But sometimes I carry the water on my shoulder,” Ramzi Abdulrakeeb Ahmad from Dar al-Nasr in Sabir, Taiz told IRIN.
He carries 10-15 water containers every day, each containing 20 litres, from the water source four kilometres from his home.
With 10 family members needing water to wash, cook, drink and clean in, Ahmad says they really face tough times. “I do this job when I am back from school. I do not have time to study because when I finish bringing water home, I am exhausted and most of the time I go straight to bed,” he said with a painful sigh.