“Water conservation calls must be directed to farmers, not to households.” [Archives:1999/21/Business & Economy]

May 24 1999

Last week, the Ministry of Electricity and Water, GAREW, the Technical Secretariat for Water Supply & Sanitation, the World Bank and the UNDP organized a workshop on national rural water supply and sanitation program in Yemen. Hatem Bamehriz of Yemen Times spoke to Dr. Robert Boydell, and Mr. Robert Mertz, of the WB and Mr. Anwar Sahooly of the Technical Secretariat. 
Q: What is the DRA? 
A: DRA stands for the Demand Responsive Approach. In the past, the government used to go to villages and say this is the system that we will give you and this is the water supply that you should have. The villages didn’t have the means to support such a system. As a result, it often broke down. Now, the villagers themselves will be the owners of the system. The project has a certain criteria, which the villagers have to meet. One of the eligibility criteria is the village’s willingness to pay the full costs for operation and maintenance and perhaps to contribute a small part to the investment cost. Another criterion is willingness to manage the system after installation. 
Thus, the DRA makes the community more involved in the project. 
Q: Given the worry about water scarcity in the country, there are calls for people to conserve water use, especially in rural areas. What do you think? 
A: Indeed, Yemen is a nation lacking in water. But, the people we are asking to conserve water may not be the right ones. Rural areas, where an individual consumes an average of not more than 10 liters a day, and where water is used for domestic purposes, is not the place to go to for conservation. Personal water consumption is probably only 5 to 10% of all water used. 
If we talk about water management, we have to address agricultural use of water. If we introduce more efficient irrigation systems, I think we can do with half the water we now use. For example, rather than flood irrigation, we can use more efficient ways. 
There is another reason why rural households cannot consume less water. Only 20% of rural people have access to piped water. Therefore, this project is actually trying to increase access to safe drinking water in rural areas. 
Going back to your question, it is not a question of better management of water at the household level. We cannot ask those people who don’t have access to water to conserve it. 
Q: But there is a lot of talk about conserving water? 
A: I think there is a confusion in that the whole country is talking about water saving and water conservation. That is very good and we are supporting that, especially in urban areas. But we have always emphasized that water saving should start with the biggest consumer – agriculture. But the water-deprived people whose per capita use is only 10 liters a day – the lowest in the whole world – are suffering. Giving them better access to water will make their standard of living better and will reduce their risk of diseases. 
In other words, we should direct our efforts at the wasteful users – farmers. 
Q: What about sanitation and the environmental aspects? 
A: The environmental aspects are taken care of through sanitation and hygiene education. People are taught how to dispose of used water around them, not to walk barefoot through stagnant water, to wash their hands after using toilet, etc. 
Q: What about the pricing of the water supply? 
A: Part of the reason farmers abuse water use is because of distorted cost structures. Water should be priced in an optimal way so that people don’t abuse it. 
Q: How can ordinary villagers be sure there is no overpricing? 
A: If you are talking about a village project, you can look for elements that can lead to over-charging, such as corruption. Another dimension to the cost aspect is to make sure that people don’t give you the wrong equipment. Therefore, villagers have to be very careful about how the equipment is procured and how the project is implemented. The worry of project over-pricing is legitimate. 
Q: How many organizations and agencies are involved in these project ? 
A: There are many agencies involved in this project, the World Bank, UNDP, CARE, the Ministry of Electricity and Water, the Technical Secretariat of GTZ. This project is now managed by NOWRA and the National Water Resource Authority.