Water & Environment Minister: Yemen has not implemented its water strategy [Archives:2007/1035/Local News]

March 22 2007

By: Amel Al-Ariqi
SANA'A, March 21 ) The Minister of Water and Environment revealed that even though Yemen has the best water strategy and hydrocarbon preservation legislation in the Middle East, such measures are yet to be put into action; “There is an approved national water strategy, a water investment plan, and many regulations and decrees, but the problem lies in the implementation” said Abdulrahman Alaryani, stressing that the Yemeni government's inability to implement these strategies have lead to donors reconsidering their support to the water sector in Yemen. “Now we have a crisis with the donors because we couldn't move from planning to implementation” said the minister who explained that donors are now resorting to conditional support. “The donors warned us that their constant support will be conditional upon visible results regarding water management in Yemen” he added.

The warning resulted from the Yemeni government's inability to progress with the National Water Sector Strategy and Investment Plan (NWSSIP) approved in 2005. “Unfortunately, two years pave been passed since the approval of the national water strategy, but nothing has been done on our part given that we assured donors and development partners that we would share in the development of water projects to facilitate hydrocarbon management in Yemen” said the minister.

Yemen is officially classified in UN Human Development Reports not only as a water scarce country but a country facing a water crisis. Yemen lacks big rivers or lakes with its main water supply originating from rainfall or groundwater which already faces overexploitation. At the end of 2005, only 58% of the urban population and 37.5% of the rural population had access to safe water. The discrepancy between water consumption and available resources reached more than 1000 Mm_ in 2005, and this figure is increasing every year. “The best way to face this crisis is to plan and implement proper water resource management schemes in coordination with all the actors involved- the government, public and private sectors, foreign representatives, and civil society organizations. We believed that the National Water Sector Strategy and Investment Plan was the first step to achieve that goal,” the minister said.

According to the minister the strategy is a visionary and modern water resources management programme that proposes a set of institutional, financial and regulatory measures aimed at addressing issues in 5 sub-sectors: urban water supply and sanitation, rural water supply and sanitation, water resources management, irrigation and watershed management and environmental protection. The strategy, which covers the period 2005-2009, requires an investment of US$ 300 million per year with the key donors in the sector comprising the World Bank, Germany, and the Netherlands.

The minister stated that the Ministry of Water is not the only authority involved in water management. “The Ministry of Water is concerned with only seven percent of water resources whereas 93 percent is managed by the Ministry of Agriculture. He also referred to the mismatch in expectations between the water programmes approved by the Ministry of Agriculture and the National Strategy which leads to inefficient management of water projects. “For example, the Investment Programme for Public Management of Irrigation is totally counter to the National Water Strategy. They are still focusing on agricultural expansion and demand in land dependant on underground water and on building small dams whose economic potential is limited. Their concern with the rational usage of scarce water resources is rudimentary at best.” He added that Qat plantations, which form the main crop in most agricultural regions, consume huge mounts of water for very little tangible benefit to the country.

The minister also criticised the random digging of wells in Yemen saying that “we cannot control water drilling rigs even in the capital city. Of course, as a Ministry we don't have our own police or security apparatus, so we have to request that security units be attached to us under our authority to help us control and seize these rigs. However, after two months we found out that some of our security personnel had become became guards of these illegal water digging rigs”. Alaryani called for a national conference to be held this year with the appropriate authorities including politicians, intellectuals, and the private sector to get a clearer picture of what needs to be dome regarding water management in Yemen.

The Minister's statements come hot on the heels of World Water Day, 22 March, which will open with the statement “coping with water scarcity””. The National Water Resources Authority (NWRA) celebrates this day every year by organising publicity events all over the country