The Problem of Water Shortage in Yemen [Archives:1999/42/Business & Economy]

October 18 1999

By: Eng. Hassan Hizam Attiah
WWWPU Project
Water Shortage has been a problem in Yemen for many years and through the ages. Yemenis have all the time been looking for new wells and water sources. That is the reason behind their frequent travels in the old times. However, today, even though we have the modern technology that helps, the water shortage problem still exists, and is affecting our community in many ways. There are reasons for this shortage, there there are solutions. These can be listed as follows
1) Investment in Sewage Re-Use.
In Yemen the lack of water is the biggest problem. From this point of view, investment in sewage treatment has become more and more crucial in the last few decades. Since improvement of public health is very important, it is better to achieve that target by giving wastewater treatment priority. This might as well prevent pollution in Sana’a where the raw sewage is presently discharged. This process will help to save the water for re-use in agriculture.
Yemen produces many thousands of tons of sewage annually. This needs to be exploited, and to be made national resources for improving agriculture. It is a problem in small towns, in big cities, for farmers and for apartment dwellers. However, the hygienic management and disposal for human excret is of central importance for the control of these diseases in both, poor and rich countries and across all climactic zones.
Most people in the development countries do not have adequate disposal systems for human wastes. A survey of developing countries by the World Health organization “WHO” in 1975 indicated that 75 % of urban dwellers did not have sewers and that 25 % had no disposal system of any kind. In rural areas, 85 % lacked any adequate excreta disposal facility. Major national and international initiatives are clearly required if any substantial improvement in sanitation systems in the developing world is to be made. The relationship between sewage and health must not be lost sight of.
There is also a marked shift of emphasis from disease issues towards amenity and aesthetic values. People want more than re-assurance of safety from disastrous germs. They want a clean environment as well. This attitude needs to be accompanied by increase in expenditure on expertise and equipment. At present, some countries spend about 0.5 % of their gross national products on sewage and sewage disposal, an average of 8 % per day on sewage treatment although there are great variations.
1.2. The Drought Problem
Drought, which has recurred frequently in Africa in recent decades has attracted worldwide attention as economic and social conditions have considerably deteriorated.
Epidemics and difficulties caused by the world recession have compounded the problem. As early as 1970, most of Africa was self sufficient in food. By contrast, in 1984 about 140 million of the total population of 531 million were dependent on imported grain (and this excluding the emergency shipment required in the latter part of that year). Agricultural production per capita in many countries is lower than it was 10 or 20 year ago. The decline has come about due to three well-established trends:-
(i) Rapid population growth.
(ii) Increasing Soil erosion.
(iii) National and International support to agriculture.
These factors have contributed towards a realization of the benefit of using sewage to provide both water and nutrients in agriculture. Many unsophisticated communities are now becoming more familiar with the use of sewage for agriculture to improve their water supply.
Sewage disposal initially consisted only of the process of removing the sewage. But the second new element in the situation is that we can not simply dispose of sewage as unwanted waste. Growing demands for water supply such as in the Sana’a region make inevitable the use of treated sewage effluent in order to help meet the water supply problem.
In fact, in previous decades, Sana’a old city was self sufficient in water supply obtained from wells in the houses. The city has now become larger, resulting in shortage of water. Shortage of rainfall, the abuse of water and random digging of wells have affected the underground water which may be the cause of the present crisis worst in Sana’a long history. From this point of view, research and studies must be undertaken to alleviate the problem. In spite of the scarcity, little has been done to reduce the misuse of water, in Sana’a. examples of such misuse are:
(i) The use of fresh water for building construction either from wells or transferred by vehicles to the building sites.
(ii) Destruction of the old system of wells inside Sana’a old city which until recently have been used but which have now fallen out of use or become dry. This misuse of old wells in Sana’a adds an extra load to the new piped water supply network which obtains water from outside of Sana’a (Alrothah and other places) and also adds to the cost.
(iii) Neglect by people to conserve ponds in both in the outskirts of Sana’a, and in Sana’a itself.
(iv) Use of many people both in old Sana’a (Sauna- Hamamat Sana’a Al- Kademah). A huge quantity of water is boiled and evaorated into the air as a consequence.
(v) Increase in the number of cars wash stations and the number of cars being hand washed too. This consumes huge quantities of fresh water.
(vi) Increase in the large number of swimming pools, which use fresh water such as the Assar swimming pool and other hotels. Further more, the idea of having swimming pools in private houses is becoming more popular from year to year.
(vii) Extension of and increase in the number of factories and industries which depend on water.
(viii) Use of large quantities of fresh water for ablution in all mosques, which discharge to sewage. One wonders why it is not possible to obtain some benefit from this water.
(ix) Numerous fountains in Sana’a all use fresh water.
(x) An increase in irrigation of Qat cultivation that has become and important source of use for fresh water from wells.
(xi) Runoff in the city during the rain season which is not collected but allowed to run to waste.
Generally, these are some of the points which must be considered if we are to try to improve the water supply and its conservation in Sana’a and other cities by introducing a system of treating sewage water, and investing in sewage, sludge, and effluent re-use systems.
It is perhaps worth noting that poor farmers in Yemen do not dream of making a fortune out of large houses or buy luxury cars but of getting sufficient fertilizer and water to grow crops. This limited dream can be achieved by careful design and implementation of sewage treatment.
What is clearly needed for Sana’a water supply and agriculture, is a cooperative effort specifically between the Ministry of Agriculture and irrigation, Ministry of Electricity and water, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Planning and Development, Environment Protection Council and National Water Resources to monitor, investigate and regulate the environment.
The question is how we can supply enough water to Sana’a and what are the general consequences of attempting to waste reusable water for different purposes.