Village children are back in school because of water wells [Archives:2008/1134/Reportage]

March 3 2008

Hamed Thabet
Upon arriving in Al-Riyam village of Rada'a in Al-Beidha governorate, visitors will notice an unforgettable feature. Women and their children, usually between the ages of five and 12, ride donkeys and sometimes travel two kilometers on foot to buy drinking water. Most of these children don't attend school because they're constantly traveling to buy drinking water.

There are between 10 to 12 water wells in Al-Riyam, but all are used exclusively by qat farmers. Six small settlements make up Al-Riyam village, which has a population of 6,000 and all of them, without exception – men, women and children – work on qat farms because it's their only means of income.

“Instead of going to school, I ride a donkey two kilometers to buy water and fills the container with four gallons of water,” said 9-year-old Musa'id Al-Riyami, “Then, I had to go again because my family needed more water.”

Not all families in Al-Riyam village have donkeys, so many women and children walk to buy their water. “My mom and I used to walk two kilometers three times a day,” said 8-year-old Ali Mohammed Al-Riyami, “Because we have no donkeys, we would put the gallon on top of our heads and walk.”

“Al-Riyam villagers care about qat more than their families,” says qat farm owner Hassan Al-Riyami, “What's wrong if my child goes to buy water two or three times a day? He must be a real man and strong. He can go to school if he has free time.”

The village has a motto: No qat, no life.

“Qat is much more important than anything else,” maintains Zaid Al-Riyami, “We can buy [drinking or domestic] water from other places, but it's very expensive to buy water for qat.” He notes that his village's qat is harvested every two months for sale at markets in Dhamar, Aden, Taiz and Sana'a.

For the past two years, Yemen's Charitable Society for Social Welfare has observed this grievous situation and has decided to end the problem via a water project aiming to enable village children to attend school and help women care for their households rather than constantly traveling back and forth for water.

The Charitable Society for Social Welfare is a non-governmental organization founded in 1990 to provide assistance to Yemen's poor.

It asked the Qatar Charitable Society for financial help with this problem in 2007. The Qatar society donated 1 million Qatari dinars, or approximately YR 55 million, to initiate a project to solve Al-Riyam's drinking water problem.

Mechanical engineer Mohammed Al-Wajeeh supervised the project with the cooperation of geologist Sha'if Al-'Aizi, both of whom work with the Ministry of Social Affairs.

“Commencing at the end of November 2007, the project took four months for experts to dig an artesian well at a depth of 307 meters. The productivity of this well is 10 liters per second,” Al-Wajeeh explained, adding, “There's also a large reservoir tank with a capacity of 150 cubic meters.”

An artesian well (a hot spring or geyser) is one drilled through impermeable rock or sediment to water held under pressure in a confined aquifer and coming from a higher altitude so that there's pressure. In aquifers of this type, water in the lower regions is trapped between two layers of impermeable rock and can't rise to the level of the water table in the upper, unconfined regions.

When a well penetrates the confined region, the pressure forces the water to rise within the well until it reaches the elevation of the water table in the unconfined region. A water table higher than the well ensures water pressure will consistently force water into an artesian well.

According to Al-Wajeeh, this artesian well program can provide water for 20 years, provided locals don't use it for qat or dig wells near it.

Abdullah Al-Ahmar, deputy governor of Al-Beidha governorate, inaugurated both the well and the reservoir tank Feb. 19

“A 12,000-meter network of pump lines connects the artesian well to the village,” explains Saleh Al-Aqra'a, the charitable society's development project manager.

He added, “The site is protected on each side every 500 meters because at the onset of the project, numerous locals attempted to dig their own private wells, but we stopped them and moved nearer to the old well.”

Before the project began, the Charitable Society for Social Welfare made an agreement with the villagers in a local court to ensure that they wouldn't use the water for qat farming, Al-Aqra'a noted.

The project almost didn't happen due to the village's remote mountainous location and the dangerous dirt roads leading up to it. Because of these conditions, no company would contract to bring in diggers, even with a lucrative offer, Al-Aqra'a said.

Because it was difficult to come and go daily due to the poor road conditions, Al-Wajeeh spent two weeks straight in the village.

“We wish and hope for more cooperation from the government because we as the Charitable Society for Social Welfare can't remove these obstacles alone,” indicated Hamid Ma'oudha, the society's general manager, adding that 2009 plans will focus on the nation's water problem because Yemen is in danger of running out of water completely.

As villager Al-Khadhar Al-Riyami says, “In the past, I used to make my three children go and buy water, but now that there's a specialized well for water, I think it's time to let my children go to school and study.”