Taiz water crisis looms, solutions presented [Archives:2007/1046/Health]

April 30 2007
Children are forced to leave school and walk for miles everyday to in search of water.
Children are forced to leave school and walk for miles everyday to in search of water.
Yemen Times
Taiz Bureau

For the past two decades, Taiz city has been suffering miserable water scarcity, particularly given that the city's population is on a marked increase. The indicators are alarming concerning a real disaster due to massive water shortage and lack of any attempts to contain the looming crisis.

City residents amount to as many as 600,000, while its 46 wells produce only 657,498 cubic meters of water. As a result, water sometimes is cut for three to four weeks, causing both health and environmental problems.

Several water projects were conducted in the area beginning in the 1960s, but unfortunately, such projects provided only temporary solutions; thus, within the course of a short time, the problem has returned and residents' suffering is hovering again.

In cooperation with USAID, the first water project was conducted in Taiz in the 1960s, wherein water was provided from Al-Haima area, approximately 25 km. northeast of Taiz. the city's population was only around 20,000.

A few years later, another project was established in Al-Houban neighborhood, with water supplied from Al-Houjala area north of Taiz. This project produced 4,100 cubic meters per day, but water quality was poor because it was salty and dusty.

In an effort to serve the city, 21 wells were dug in Al-Haima area in 1982, but they weren't deep and their production was roughly 19,000 cubic meters per day, which wasn't nearly enough to meet the entire area's water needs.

Owing to continuous construction expansion and population increase, available water resources no longer suffice and the need for new sources was urgent. Additionally, by 1987, water supply in those 21 wells had decreased to 7,000 cubic meters per day due to shortage of rainfall, which supplies groundwater.

In an attempt to solve the water problem, 13 wells were dug in 1995 in order to divert a potential crisis; however, they produced only 2,500 cubic meters of water, serving as only a momentary and partial solution. In that same year, the entire city of Taiz experienced a 40-day water cut to homes, thus creating numerous economic and health problems for city residents, who were forced to spend a lot of money to buy drinking water from shops.

After this, the International Development Corporation instituted the $11 million Taiz water project, with the Yemeni government providing approximately 10 percent of the civic work cost.

The project aimed to solve Taiz's water scarcity problem and save the city from a dangerous crisis, as well as decrease the period of water cuts in the area to 10 days by providing 3,000 cubic meters of water daily. It also aimed to explore new water resources, thereby improving essential rural water service and establishing an institutional framework to decentralize water supply administration in Taiz governorate.

The project had three components, one of which related to the local water supply and sanitation authority, enabling it to study, design and assemble new water pipes to transfer water from Hibair area to the main water line, as well as change Al-Houban pump and provide a water sterilization station.

The second component assisted the Public Authority for Water Resources to assess and renew water resources 40 kilometers outside the city in all directions. The project's third component concerned dam construction and digging wells in southern Taiz's mountainous areas. Project construction was completed in 2000 and since then, it has begun serving city residents.

There are several reasons for Taiz's water scarcity and the continual increase in water demand, paramount of which is the area's geological characteristics. Engineer Abdulsamad Mohammed Al- Shuj'a, director of the Water Resources Authority branch in Taiz, maintained that one of the outstanding reasons for water scarcity in Taiz is that the city is situated on a base of rocks, which don't store water, in addition to a shortage of rainfall, which would greatly help to replenish groundwater. Al- Shuj'a added that continuous construction expansion and the resulting increase in population also aggravate the problem.

Regarding current irrigation methods, Al-Shuj'a confirmed that such methods represent one of the reasons that increase the water problem, pointing out that a systematic irrigation system could help save a lot of water. He also indicated that qat trees consume a huge quantity of water, whereas such water could be used for essential plants.

For his part, Mahmoud Mohammed Abdulwali, director of Taiz Local Corporation for Water Supply and Sanitation, maintained that available water resources are insufficient to meet the area's water demands and that relying completely on groundwater is a key cause of wasting water.

He further added that unsystematic, haphazard digging of wells, together with lack of education to make the public aware of good methods of utilizing water, as well as lack of coordination between involved bodies, are all ominous regarding a real and disastrous future for the city.

Abdulwali also disclosed that his corporation has spent more than YR 1.5 billion seeking water resources in Taiz, but the project failed due to lack of cooperation between incumbent authorities. At the same time, he said, another more than YR 3 billion project aiming to protect the city from rainwater failed for the same reason.

Ahmed Sa'eed Al-Wahsh, director of the groundwater protection project in Taiz, said that aside from wasting water and unsystematic well digging, migration from rural areas into the city puts huge pressure on the city's water and expands the gap between demand and available water supply.

Additionally, he pointed out that rainwater isn't exploited by building water barriers, although they could greatly benefit irrigation and supply groundwater, especially given that rains fall only in summer in Yemen. Such water could be retained for use in other seasons. Moreover, Al-Wahsh said that even rainwater settling on house roofs could be exploited.

Asked about the groundwater protection project's role in tackling the area's water crisis, Al-Wahsh mentioned that it had held numerous activities to raise public awareness in general, and that of farmers in particular, regarding dealing with water issues properly and following systematic irrigation methods.

Concerning seawater desalination, Al-Shuj'a explained that desalination should be a last resort because it's costly, particularly if conducted by an investment company because tariffs will be so high that citizens can't pay them. However, if such a project is conducted by the government and supported by donors, the price will be reasonable and citizens could afford it.

Water sector experts confirm that the radical solution for water shortage in Yemen in general and Taiz in particular can come via water exploitation by building dams and retaining rainwater, which both help with irrigation and supplying groundwater.