The Main Conclusion of the 2nd World Water Forum at the Hague, Mar 17-22 IT IS NOT A WATER CRISIS, BUT RATHER A CRISIS OF MANAGEMENT! [Archives:2000/13/Reportage]
Throughout the annals of human history , water has been the main cornerstone of civilizations, wealth and prosperity. The Arabian Peninsula is no exception. When reading about the old kingdoms of Sheba, and Egypt, we realize that agriculture, based on irrigation was the chief determinant of power. And agriculture would not have been there without sufficient water. Once water vanished from an area, tribes, or villagers in that area would be forced to flee it in search for a land with water and food. This continued through the years. Here in Yemen, we once had the great Kingdom of Sheba in Marib. Our ancestors were clever and thought of ways to build structures, such as the ancient dam of Marib that would preserve water for agricultural and livestock use. Today, we look back and see how wise our ancestors were and how foolish we are today. As soon as the pumping machines were imported to Yemen, we began using them hysterically pumping water from the underground. The inventor of the pumping machine – if alive, today would regret he had invented it in the first place. Yemen is ranked the fastest groundwater depleting country in the world today. We even abandoned the old ways of rainwater harnessing, which was among the most important ways to reserve water in the past. We found that with pumps, we could achieve the same objective of getting water any way, so why not do it. This narrow mindedness of ours, leads to making Yemen a country on the brink of total desertification.
If there were one conference we must have attended on this pertinent issue, it would, without doubt be the Second World Water Forum at The Hague during 17-22 March 2000, held under the motto “Water is Life.” Hence, as one among the Yemeni journalists to cover this event, I concentrated, as I mentioned in previous articles, on Yemen, and the role of our delegation to push Yemen’s case ahead of others in sofar, as Yemen is the country dying for water and needs assistance in its program of water management. Even though I did not see what I expected from Yemeni participation at The Hague, I still believe that they have done a commendable job in representing Yemen in various sessions, including the youth session, which included 4 of our Yemeni girls drawing the attention of the participants to our critical conditions of water shortage in what was once called the Arabian Felix.
The least that could be said about the forum is that it was a spectacular event that indeed demonstrated the importance of water, and turned the world’s attention to this vital element of life. With the participation of more than 4,800 participants of 158 delegations and 115 ministers, the forum was by far the biggest event I have attended so far. The all gathered in the Hague, Netherlands for the Second World Water Forum and Ministerial Conference, a unique interactive event and platform for developing sustainable water management.
What astonished me most was not the number of people, but rather, the efficiency, elegance, and organization of the event. Not only was the excellent management of the event worth noting, but the organizers even took care of the smallest details, such as bringing about a few young women to the hall to demonstrate the value of water, etc. through some stimulating dances and postures.
The presence of Arab countries was quite evident. There seemed to be a bigger representation put highest priority on water resources, such as Jordan, Iraq, Yemen, and of course, Egypt.
Yemen’s presence was equally impressive. Despite the absence of the Yemeni Minister of Water, the delegation comprised 8 officials, 3 journalists, 4 young girls who participated in the gender sessions, and a researcher from the Technical University of Delft as well. All were keen to make good use of this unique opportunity by sharing ideas, learning from other countries’ experiences, discussing possible solutions, and most of all, getting grips with the vital issue of water resources management in the most convenient way.
During the opening session, while the World Council Chairman Abu-Zeidwas was delivering his speech, two activists undressed on the stage, preventing him from delivering his speech.
In response to the extremely bizarre incident which disturbed the opening session of the conference, His Royal Highness the Prince of Orange, chairman of the event said, “During the Second World Water Forum all individuals can vent their opinions on water related issues, but in a civilized manner.” The activists wanted to demonstrate against the Itoiz Dam in Spain, and privatization of water. Even though the unusual mode of the protest was a negative act by the activists, but it had a positive effect even if unintentionally. The world attention turned to The Hague on leaving about the incident. The TV channels that did not enlist the forum in their agenda, had to do so after the incident. In other words, it was also a way to attract the world’s attention: “There is something interesting and important happening in The Hague, so keep a close eye.”
Topics discussed at the Forum were of a great variety. The program was divided into 7 main categories: Plenary sessions, Regional Presentations, Water-Use presentations, Special Subjects, World Water Fair, Cultural events, Ministerial Conference, and other miscellaneous events. All in all, more than 85 sessions took place with a spectacular attendance and with increasing interest noticed in each session.
Topics of Interest to Yemen
Even though there were tens of topics, the topics that concerned Yemen were few. The following in a brief account of some of those pertinent issues:
This was by far the most important session for Yemen simply because groundwater is almost the only source of water for the country. In other words, if groundwater is depleted, Yemen would become without water, hence would become a total desert. During the session on groundwater, a presentation was made and a book was distributed among the participants. The book entitled, “the Global Situation of Groundwater: Overview of Opportunities and Challenges” takes Yemen as its first example of a water crisis because of extreme groundwater depletion. Here I quote the paragraph on Yemen, “Groundwater problems in west and south Asia are as pernicious as or even worse than those in China. A groundwater basket case is Yemen. A recent World-Bank memorandum on water management in Yemen noted: “The problem of groundwater mining represents a fundamental threat to the well-being of the Yemeni people. In the highland plains, for example, abstraction is estimated to exceed recharge by 400 percent” ( Briscoe 1999). Yemen is probably the only country where groundwater abstraction exceeds the recharge for the country as a whole (ibid).”
2- Rainwater Harvesting
As can be concluded from above, the continuos pumping of groundwater will cause a catastrophe if an alternative is not found. However, can rainwater harvesting be the solution? Could rainwater harvesting be the true solution for Yemen? Or is the decreasing amounts of rainwater year after year an obstacle towards achieving that? Yemen farmers in villages in many parts of the country depend on rainwater to grow their crops. However, not every season is blessed with sufficient rainwater. Even if it comes it does not come in the appropriate season to grow the crops. What is the solution then? How can we make good use of rainwater instead of totally depending on groundwater? Here is a extract from the book released on the occasion of the second World Water Forum entitled, From Vision to Action, “Rainwater harvesting could be an answer to water shortages in the new millennium. For centuries, people across the world have harvested rainwater for household, livestock, and agricultural uses. Before the advent of large centralized water supply systems, precious rainwater was collected from a variety of sources. Rainwater harvesting can be as simple as small dams to stop water flooding off a slope or as technically advanced as reservoir that stores excess water for drinking and irrigation. It offers a wealth of promising possibilities. What we need is more networking and promotion to ensure the widest possible participation.”
3- Financing Water Infrastructure
Once I was told by one of the Yemeni participants in The Hague, “All we need is some financing of some water projects that, if managed efficiently, could prevent a water disaster.” I replied, “There are always finances, there have always been, but the problem lies in managing these finances; We need a government that could be accountable, a government that is capable of safeguarding the project’s implementation in a transparent environment open to the people.” Here I would like to verify my conclusion by referring to Mr. John Briscoe, the Head of the Delegation of the World Bank to the forum, and a prominent senior Water Advisor (see complete statement,) “It is sometimes difficult to implement water infrastructures in countries like the USA where you have governments in function, and where you have rules and regulations. But in a situation like Yemen, where there is a tremendous dispersion between tribal groupings and where rules and laws are not fulfilled, it is even more difficult.”It is well known that the cost of new projects in real terms per cubic meter of water supplied has become extremely high. But that should never be a reason for abandoning them. The session concentrated on financing water infrastructure and exploring the potential of alternatives for financing future water infrastructure needed through public-private and national-international partnerships, and under the auspices of donors or organizations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF.)
4- Water Education and Training
We in Yemen, suffer from a tremendously high level of illiteracy, exceeding 60%, with an overwhelming majority of them in rural areas. What makes our conditions even worse, is that farmers and people in charge of distributing water used in agriculture are among the uneducated sector. We need in our country to begin a long-term process of spreading awareness of the dangers of wasting water, extensive groundwater pumping, and inefficient irrigation techniques. The session was dedicated to demonstrating new state-of-the art training modules regarding water education policy as well as the latest methods of knowledge and skills dissemination. We cannot afford teaching or training all farmers or water managers at the same time. We could start today a long-term process of educating the children and the next generations. However, there must be a starting point, we cannot afford the time spent on doing nothing,. At least a committee should be formed today before tomorrow, and tomorrow before after tomorrow to focus on this issue.
5-Youth Forum and Future Vessels
What made me appreciate the efforts of the organizers even more, was the importance they gave to the gender and youth activities. They even held a huge gathering of the future vessels, the children in the biggest hall to present the generations of tomorrow, their ideas, their suggestions, and their anger to the decision makers who have been ignoring the issue for too long. Wonderful statement by one of the girl of the future vessels worth noting, “Think of us, think of the future, think about living in a world without accessible water,” a statement that should wake up the consciousness of our officials and decision-makers as well. Doesn’t the estimation saying that in the year 2010, the capital city would dry, frighten or force the decision-makers into action?
Amidst all of this, the future vessels representing Yemen was enriched by the, four girls from the Girls World Language School managed by Mrs. Carin Meerburg the wife of H.E. the Dutch Ambassador Arnerd Meerburg. They painted a promising picture of Yemen of tomorrow, caring for water, and giving it its importance it deserves. During the forum, the girls decorated and designed a wonderful blue board (see photo) including photos of children, women and normal citizens with water, and also including a map indicating the level of depletion of groundwater. One of the Yemeni participants humorously said, “I believe these four girls represented Yemen better than the official delegation did. At least they did something tangible!” We would not comment on whether he was right or wrong, but we certainly congratulate the girls and their teacher, Mrs. Meerburg for their wonderful efforts.
The Ministerial Declaration
During the last two days of the conference, 115 ministers and country representatives met under the umbrella of the forum in the ministerial conference to work together to evolve a unified declaration that supports all the ideas and conclusions brought forward throughout the forum. They all agreed on the declaration, and committed themselves to have it on the top of their agenda for the coming months and years.
Ministerial Declaration of The Hague on Water Security in the 21st Century
1. Water is vital for life and health of people and ecosystems and is also a basic requirement for the development of countries, but around the world women, men and children lack access to adequate and safe water to meet their most basic needs. Water resources, and the related ecosystems that provide and sustain them, are under threat from pollution, unsustainable use, land-use changes, climate change and many other factors. The link between these threats and poverty is clear, for it is the poor who are hit first and hardest. This leads to one simple conclusion: business as usual is not an option. There is, of course, a huge diversity of needs and situations around the globe, but together we have one common goal: to provide water security in the 21st Century. This means ensuring that freshwater, coastal and related ecosystems are protected and improved; that sustainable development and political stability are promoted, that every person has access to enough safe water at an affordable cost to lead a healthy and productive life and that the vulnerable are protected from the risks of water-related hazards.
2. These threats are not new. Nor are attempts to address them. Discussions and actions started in Mar del Plata in 1977, continued through Dublin and were consolidated into Chapter 18 of Agenda 21 in Rio in 1992. They were reaffirmed in Paris 1998, CSD-6 and in the Second World Water Forum and Ministerial Conference. The process will continue in the meeting salted to be held in Bonn in 2002 (“Dublin+10”), through the 10-year review of implementation of Agenda 21, and beyond. These and other international forums have produced a number of agreements and principles that constitute the basis upon which this and future statements should be built. The goal of providing water security in the 21st Century is reflected in the acceptable animated participation and discussion by experts, stakeholders and government officials in many regions of the world. This process has profited from the seminar contributions of the World Water Council, while launched the World Water Vision process at the First World Water Forum in Marrakech, was the main force behind the formation of the World Commission on Water in the 21st Century and the development of the Framework for Action by the Global Water Partnership.
The Main Challenges
3. To achieve water security, we face the following main challenges:
Meeting basic needs: to recognize that access to safe and sufficient water and sanitation are basic human needs and are essential to health and well-being, and to empower people, especially women, through a participatory process of water management.
Securing the food supply: to enhance food security, particularly for the poor and the vulnerable, through its more efficient mobilization and use, and the more equitable allocation of water for food production.
Protecting ecosystems: to ensure the integrity of ecosystems through sustainable water resources management.
Sharing water resources: to promote peaceful co-operation and develop synergies between different uses of water at all levels, whenever possible, within and, in the case of boundary and trans-boundary water resources, between states concerned, through sustainable river basin management or other appropriate approaches.
Managing risks: to provide security from floods, droughts, pollution and other water-related hazards.
Valuing water: to manage water in a way that reflects its social, environmental and cultural values for all its uses, and to move towards pricing water services to reflect the cost of their provision. This approach should take into account the need for equity and the basic needs of the poor and the vulnerable.
Governing water wisely: to ensure good governance, so that the involvement of the public and the interests of all stakeholders are included in the management of water resources.
Meeting the Challenges
4. We, the Ministers and Heads of Delegation, recognize that our gathering and this Declaration are part of a wider process, and are linked to a wide range of initiatives at all levels. We acknowledge the pivotal role that governments play in realizing actions to meet the challenges. We recognize the need for institutional, technological and financial innovations in order to move beyond “business as usual” and we resolve to rise to meet these challenges.
5. The actions advocated here are based on integrated water resources management, that includes the planning and management of water resources, both conventional and non-conventional, and land. This takes account of social, economic and environmental factors and integrates surface water, groundwater and the ecosystems through which they flow. It recognizes the importance of water quality issues. In this, special attention should be paid to the poor, to the role, skills and needs of women and to vulnerable areas such as small island states, landlocked countries and desertified areas.
6. Integrated water resources management depends on collaboration and partnerships at all levels, from individual citizens to international organizations, based on a political commitment to, and wider societal awareness of, the need for water security and the sustainable management of water resources. To achieve integrated water resources management, there is a need for coherent national and, where appropriate, regional and international policies to overcome fragmentation, and for transparent and accountable institutions at all levels.
7. We will further advance the process of collaboration in order to turn agreed principles into action, based on partnerships and synergies among the government, citizens and other stakeholders. To this end:
A. We will establish targets and strategies, as appropriate, to meet the challenges of achieving water security. As part of this effort, we support the development of indicators of progress at the national and sub-national level. In carrying this forward, we will take account of the valuable work done for the Second World Water Forum.
B. We will continue to support the UN system to re-assess periodically the state of freshwater resources and related ecosystems, to assist countries, where appropriate, to develop systems to measure progress towards the realization of targets and to report in the biennial World Water Development Report as part of the overall monitoring of Agenda 21.
C. We will work together with other stakeholders to develop a stronger water culture through greater awareness and commitment. We will identify best practices, based on enhanced research and knowledge generation capacities, knowledge dissemination through education and other channels and knowledge sharing between individuals, institutions and societies at all appropriate levels. This will include co-ordination at regional and other levels, as appropriate, to promote arrangements for coping with water-related disasters and for sharing experiences in water sector reform. It will also include international co-operation in technology transfers to, and capacity building in, developing countries.
D. We will work together with stakeholders to increase the effectiveness of pollution control strategies based on polluter pays principles and to consider appropriate rules and procedures in the fields of liability and compensation for damage resulting from activities dangerous to water resources.
E. Against the background of the preparatory work for and discussions in The Hague, we will work within multilateral institutions, particularly the UN system, International Financial Institutions and bodies established by Inter-Governmental Treaties, to strengthen water-related policies and programs that enhance water security, and to assist countries, as appropriate, to address the major challenges identified in this Declaration.
F. We call upon the Secretary General of the United Nations to further strengthen the co-ordination and coherence of activities on water issues within the UN system. We will adopt consistent positions in the respective governing bodies to enhance coherence in these activities.
G. We call upon the Council of the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) to expand activities that are within the mandate of the GEF in relation to freshwater resources by catalyzing investments in national water management issues that have a beneficial impact on international waters.
H. We welcome the contribution of the World Water Council in relation to the Vision and of the Global Water Partnership with respect to the development of the Framework for Action. We welcome follow-up actions by all relevant actors in an open, participatory and transparent manner that draws upon all major groups in society.
I. We note the statements (attached to this declaration) made by the representatives of the major groups and welcome them as a clear reflection of their readiness to work with us towards a secure water future for all.
8. Recognizing that the actions referred to in paragraph 7, including progress on targets and strategies, are important and ambitious, we will review our progress periodically at appropriate fora, including the meeting in Bonn in 2002 and the 10-year review of the implementation of Agenda 21.
9. The Ministerial Conference acknowledges with appreciation that a range of issues were discussed during the Second World Water Forum, and that the Chair of the Forum presented these issues to the Ministerial Conference. The importance of these issues is unquestionable; we will raise them for further consideration in relevant fora in the future and will consider their implications for our individual national situations.
10. The challenges are formidable, but so are the opportunities. There are many experiences around the world that can be built on. What is needed is for us all to work together, to develop collaboration and partnerships, to build a secure and sustainable water future. We will, individually and acting together, strive to achieve this and stimulate and facilitate the contributions of society as a whole. To this end, we note with appreciation that pledges were made at The Hague (attached to our declaration). This Declaration reflects the determination of our governments and represents a critical step in the process of providing water security for all.
11. We, the Ministers and Heads of Delegation, thank the government and people of The Netherlands for their vision and for their hospitality in hosting this conference and forum.
Agreed to on Wednesday 22 March, 2000,
In The Hague, The Netherlands
World Bank Delegation Raises the Issue of Yemen
The World Bank deserves to be thanked for its effective role in presenting Yemen’s conditions in a speech by James D. Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank in which he said, “In Yemen, once regarded as the garden of the Arabian peninsula, the introduction of diesel pumps over the last 30 years risks literally pumping the country dry. In the basin around Sana’a, for example, four times more water is pumped out than is recharged by streams and run-offs. Water levels are sinking several meters every year and, as in many cities of the developing world, poor people pay 5 times more for a bucket of water than it costs people in the Hague or Washington, D.C.”
On the other side, Mr. John Briscoe, the Head of the Delegation of the World Bank gave a statement to the Yemen Times, “There are two projects in Yemen for the World Bank, and I am very proud of engaging in them. These projects are a nightmare, and are very difficult. Taiz for example. We had a project around the city of Taiz. These is literally the sort that gives substance to the projects we are managing because Taiz gets water once every 40 days, if you could imagine.That is literally a fact. Outside the city, they drilled wells and pumped water into Taiz resulting in the drying up of Al-Haima area where there is no groundwater any more. After depleting the area there, the authorities are moving upstream. However, over there, normal people wear arms and Kalashnikovs and they are denying access of the government to their lands saying “No way, you dried up their land but you will not do the same to ours.” Hence this is a tremendous problem because the city really needs water. We are engaged in the project in Taiz with tremendous debate within the bank as you might be aware. We are now moving to the Sanaa basin, where it is even bigger and more difficult. It is not easy answer to the question whether the World Bank would be capable of preventing the desertification of Yemen. What is happening now is that the government is coming to grips with it. We are working on it, and if you -Yemen Times- have suggestions of how to get out of this deadlock please tell us.”
Controversy over Marib Dam
During the session of Water and History, the point of historically wrong decisions were brought about, and the first example of that was interestingly the Dam of Marib, where it is said that the reconstruction of the Marib dam did not take into consideration the change in climate, weather, and means of agriculture. What has been said is that the famous Great Dam of Marib and the new dam of Marib in Yemen provide one of the cases in which a traditionally well performing system is replaced by a new one that, however well constructed, fails to achieve its purpose(s). The wealth of the leading kingdoms of the Sabeans in the first millennium BC came out of the intense trade, but their economic backbone was the sustainable irrigated oases with a blooming agriculture. The Great Dam conducts part of the flood into a canal system with two sluices on each end serving as entrances to the primary canals. Its purpose was thus to divert water and not to barrage a reservoir. A network of rectangular secondary canals distributed the water on the oasis and the surplus water was conducted back to the Wadi by massive built overflows. The final collapse of the great Dam happened at the time when Marib had lost its status as a capital and as the commercial centre along the frankincense trail and internal rumors had weakened the power of the leading group. When finally we wished for a project to revive the Sabean irrigation system, it met with several problems and not all of these could be solved. The most severe ones came from the local tribal people who were reluctant to depend on superior organizations. As very few farmers make use of the new dam, only negative results are produced which is in sharp contrast with the old dam. The perceived storage capacity in an extremely arid region is a big mistake because as a large portion of the water gets lost, the salinity increases and water-related diseases will occur. Today, mankind failed where past generations succeeded.
Yemeni Head of Delegation, Mr. Jamal Abdo: “We need no more to wait for a water crisis to come. In fact, we are in the midst of it.”
Even though most of the sessions of the Second World Water Forum at the Hague concentrated on issues of concern to the world as a whole, Yemen, the country that stands in the front line among the first nations to be devastated by a water crisis, was seldom mentioned. This despite its suffering from extreme shortage of water. Taiz, the third main city of Yemen, for example, is an overpopulated city that has water delivered to its citizens once every 40 days. Hence, the water issue should be among the most important issues that the government should concentrate on. Yemenis can live without democracy, they can live without freedom of expression, they can live without human rights, but can they live without water?
Giving the water issue the importance it deserved, most of the Arab countries sent their ministers of water to the second world water forum at the Hague. However, it was quite disappointing to realize the absence of the Yemeni Minister of Water in the forum. This despite the fact that Yemen is the country suffering from the most extreme levels of water shortage in the Arab world. A quote from a water expert could explain how critical the situation is, “We, as Yemen, are all the time ignored, isolated, and taken for granted. When will we ever realize that we are facing a disaster, that not only could result in the depletion of all what is left of underground water, but would result to a political, social, and environmental crisis that may never be healed”
During the forum, Yemen Times met the head of the Yemeni official delegation and the representative of Yemen in the ministerial conference, Mr. Jamal Abdo, Chairman of the General Committee of Water Resources, and filed the following interview.
Q: Who and how many participants were there from the Yemeni side in the second world water forum?
A: There were 8 participants representatives of various sectors in the country. These include the general committee of water resources, rural water, water establishment, ministry of planning, and a participant representing NGOs in Yemen. There also were 4 young girls who participated in youth activities of the forum. Hence as you can see, the number was quite reasonable, so was the coverage of the activities of the forum. The forum, as you know, was so broad and had more than 80 subjects. We were only able to cover around 20 of them.
Q: What were the subjects and sessions you concentrated on most during the forum?
A: We made sure we covered sessions that were in relation with the region, such as sessions on the Arab countries and the Middle East. We sent a representative to the gender sessions. We also concentrated on issues that are of importance to our country’s conditions, and that we suffer from. These include harvesting, agricultural use of water, rain harnessing, underground water, management of water sector by communities, groups and the government.
Q: How do you see the water crisis in Yemen and how do you think it would benefit from this forum?
A: We only were able to benefit from the knowledge we attained in this forum. We were not able to utilize in the forum to ask for new financial aid or to drive the attention of donors to our critical situation in the country. The forum was only intended for knowledge and sharing of ideas and not asking for financial assistance. It gave us the opportunity to lean from other countries, how they managed their crises, what are the straightforward solutions for countries like ours. Even the forum would help us realize some aspects of our problems and how to deal with them, our problem is too complex and is caused by several factors that are each of tremendous difficulty to solve. Delegations of other countries are complaining about situations we see far better than our country’s conditions. Our conditions cannot be compared to any other country in the world, as we are in a critical level of water shortage because of the lack of water resources, bad management, inexperience and unqualified management in dealing with water issues. Add to that the monopoly and taking advantage of citizens and the unavailability of guidelines of what people should have and consumption of water. All these are some problems we will try to tackle in the future.
Q: What about other Arab countries? How do you evaluate the participation of Arab countries in the forum?
A: There was no chance for each country to individually represent its case in the discussions of the forum. The forum did not take into consideration giving the chance to each country to represent its conditions and bring into focus its current situation. The most that was given to us, as Arab countries, was a session on the Middle East, a second on Arab countries, and a third on North Africa in the ministerial conference. Taking into account the huge number of participants, which exceeded 4,500, it was simply impossible to have each and every individual country to present its case or make a presentation on itself. Even though, some countries have provided comments on dams, others presented ideas regarding harvesting, etc. However, all of these were just extra pieces of information.
Q: The strongest and most concrete conclusion of the forum, also quoted by the Prince of Orange, the chairman of the forum is that it is not a water crisis, but a management crisis? Do you believe this is true for Yemen?
A: When comparing this statement with Yemen’s conditions, we realize it is in fact true. 50% of the amount of water consumed is actually a waste. We are using 90% of the water in irrigation, in which 60% of it is not benefiting man or plants. Hence, the 50 or 60% of this water is wasted, and could have been saved. This waste in irrigate on is among the highest in the world, as other countries have adopted mechanisms to reduce this waste to as low as 30%.
Q: The topic which concerns Yemen most would be agriculture and water. Did the forum give this topic the importance it deserves, especially for developing countries?
A: Topics on agriculture and irrigation were not given the attention required. During the days of the forum, sessions about food and water usage, and others about dams and water management were held in one or two days. The forum concentrated on water resources in general. Agriculture was among the topics which included water pollution, industrial effects on water, water and tourism, urban water management. I suppose that is because their problem is quite different, as in developed countries, water is not used mostly for agriculture as in countries like Yemen.
Q: A conclusion of the forum was privatization. There was a common agreement that the private sector could be a key role player in providing better services with reasonable prices. Does this apply for Yemen as well?
A: Developed countries have calculated the amount of money they allocate within their budgets for the water sector, and it is quite evident that this number is getting higher every year. I suppose that they have also been able to identify how much will be needed for the whole world to allocate for water to offer it as an essential service to the general public with reasonable prices and good quality. Unfortunately, we in Yemen lack these statistics and do not know how much to allocate and how much is needed annually for this sector. There seems to be a complaint of not allocating enough money for this sector -probably because of shortage of governmental financial resources. In the World Bank’s round table conference, it was pointed out that the budget of the water sector is much less than what should be allocated compared to other sectors that had larger shares.
Q: Cities that are in acute need for water management such as Sanaa and Taiz are currently going through very critical times in regards to water. What are your immediate steps toward overcoming this crisis?
A: The first step we have already completed. We have completed a study on Sanaa City and its surrounding area’s of a total exceeding 3,200 sq. km. We have collected information about the underground reservoir capacity of the city and realized future possible water resources. There are sever problems that stand as obstacles in front of having these waters pumped into the city as many farmers think that the underground water beneath their land is their own property and cannot be taken by the state. Similar studies have been done in Taiz city and neighboring areas. However, another obstacle towards achieving a sustainable development is the rapidly increasing population. The overall annual increase in population is around 3.7%. In Sanaa City alone, the increase is more than 8%, which is tremendously high and sabotages any long-term plan to provide the population. Just as soon as we complete a project to serve a population, we would realize that because of the population increase the project would not be enough. We will simply continue to face shortage of water as long as the population growth continues.
Q: It was concluded that Qat is one of the crops that consumes a lot of water and provides nothing in return as nutritional value, and is among the main factors behind a possible water crisis. What are your comments?
A: I believe that the qat issue was never studied well enough. Hence, we cannot presume the percentage of water it consumes. There are some areas in which it consumes 40% of water resources in Sanaa area. On the other hands, there are areas where qat is not grown at all. There are areas that extend from the coastline to as far as 650 to 850 meters inwards that were they do not grow qat. Qat is grown in agricultural areas, which gives the impression that it is absorbing the water needed to grow other crops and plants.
However, we hope that the national conference on qat would tackle this issue and will launch a study about qat’s influence on the national water resources. Qat is an element without any substantial revenue to the state, and any consumption of qat is simply an extra luxury that adds a burden on the already weak economy of the country.
Q: The forum concluded that in some areas, the desalination of water is the optimum solution. In other countries, the construction of dams and reservoir containers is the best solution. In some areas, rivers or extension canals could lead the way to a permanent solution. What is the solution for Yemen?
A: We should harness rainwater as much as possible. Just as our ancestors did in the past, we should build water reservoirs to obtain the large quantities of rainwater and use it for irrigation, drinking, and domestic use. We cannot think of dams in Yemen because they are too huge to adopt in a country with no rivers, and cannot be of much use for a semi-arid landscape. However, even when constructing these reservoirs, we should take into consideration the low rate of rain that could not be of any significance if solely depended on. In other words, rain harnessing could help, but it could never be a complete solution. In an attempt to make good use of what is being pumped from underground reservoirs, we should optimize our irrigation techniques in order to prevent the loss of such huge percentages of water. In regard to desalination, we can implement that to coastal areas, even though such projects require a lot of financial backup. In such coastal areas, the price of one cubic meter of drinkable water is about 70 cents. However, it can never be a solution for cities in the mid-regions, such as Sanaa, Ibb and Taiz, which are the main cities suffering from water shortage. The price would more thank triple when transporting the water to these cities by tankers or pipelines. It would simply be too high for the normal citizen to afford.
Q: The project funded by the Dutch Government in Rada’a is considered as some say, among the best and most efficiently managed projects in Yemen. There are even some who think that such a project, if implemented, in Taiz and Sanaa would be of great success. What do you think?
A: I know that the difference between the project with others is in its management system only. I believe it is similar to projects in Taiz and Sanaa but whether it is more efficient is a matter that requires thorough investigation after gathering statistics and seeing how it compares to the other projects. I do not have enough information about the project of Rada’a, although I know that the donors were quite happy with how it has been operated and managed so far.
Q: Are you in a position to increase the price of water if you think of enhancing the infrastructure of the water system, or if you would increase the efficiency of the system? If Yes, how do you expect the response of the public?
A: If we were to provide water seven days a week in stead of three days, I don’t think this would cause an increase in the price of water. However the problem is that when we provide water to an area you never know if the consumption of water in three days could be the same for seven days or not. Most probably, if water is provided three days a week, people would be doubling their consumption of water by storing it for domestic use in the other four days, which means that eventually the amount they would be consuming in seven days would be consumed in three days. Some people may prefer getting higher quality water with better and more secure services and pay a higher tariff per square meter of water. However, there are several reasons to think of raising the tariff. Today we are still charging a rate less than the cost of operating and maintenance of the machines. I believe if we would ever break even and raise the price to the cost of operation, that in itself would be a great success for us. With deep regret, I am telling you that most of our branches are still charging a fee less than the cost of operating the machinery for pumping the water down the network, let alone the cost of the infrastructure and maintenance.
Q: Any comments you would like to add?
A: We as Yemenis, must begin realizing the danger we are in. Thousands of participants that have come here are concerned about their country’s conditions, and have come all the way to this country, the Netherlands to discuss possible ways to prevent future water crises in their countries. If the host country, the Netherlands, which is a country with an extremely high quality of water management system is thinking of problem that may or may not happen after tens of years, what should we as Yemenis do? We need no more to wait for a water crisis to come. In fact, we are in the midst of it. It is not even a steady crisis. It is increasing and intensifying day after day. The depletion of underground water has reached a critical level, but we have not yet waken up to the danger and have not implemented any prompt strategy. We should all begin thinking of this vital issue and act responsibly and quickly to reach a reasonable level of balance in managing water resources in Yemen.