Water in Yemen: The reality of suffering [Archives:2007/1062/Health]

June 25 2007

Fatima Al-Ajel
[email protected]

“I still remember the old woman crying at the top of the mountain as I was coming home from school in my village. The sun was in the middle of the sky and it was very hot; dogs, sheep and some reptiles were searching for a few drops of water to drink. In that hot weather, with sweat pouring, the woman was crying because the water can she spent all day collecting had spilled.”

Mohammed Al-Ariqi, a Yemeni journalist and member of the International Water and Media Committee, recently published a book entitled, “Water: the reality and future vision,” focusing on Yemen's water shortage and the reasons for it. In his book, Al-Ariqi presents several solutions to this serious problem facing Yemen.

“At first, I thought she might have been attacked by a wild animal, but when I asked, she told me what had happened,” Al-Ariqi said, continuing to narrate the old woman's story.

She said, “I went to the well after sunrise to ensure my turn to wait for the chance to collect water. After a long time of waiting, it was my turn.”

However, while returning home with the water for her children, she stumbled on a rock and the water spilled all over the ground. “I walked four hours for nothing. Now I must go back and wait my turn again,” she cried.

The above story is one of many Al-Ariqi narrates. Such stories reflect the fact that most Yemeni citizens are suffering due to increased water needs in urban and rural areas, which requires pumping more water for their survival.

Lacking water sources, such as rivers, lakes and waterfalls, Yemen depends completely on groundwater and rainfall; thus, this is one of the most important reasons for its water shortage. As a result, Yemen is classified as one of the world's water-poor countries and is vulnerable to future disasters. This is the main topic discussed in the book, especially considering qat the first cause of the shortage and increasing it in Yemen.

A study published by the United Nations Environment Program and the World Health Organization reported that Yemen in general and Sana'a in particular are facing a critical water shortage due to unregulated and uncoordinated water use. Moreover, there is a potential risk of groundwater contamination from unregulated wastewater disposal.

The risk of groundwater pollution could incur serious health problems because more than 50 percent of the city's population relies on private wells for their water needs. In addition to adverse health effects, polluted groundwater is very costly to treat.

According to a December 2005 report prepared by a Yemeni parliamentary committee for water and environment, waterborne diseases in unclean drinking water threaten 75 percent of Yemen's 20 million-strong population. The study went on to reveal that only about 7 percent of the population enjoys modern and effective water treatment systems. As a result, the percentage of contaminated water nationwide stands at 90 percent.

Chapters three and four spotlight the risks of water shortage, such as internal migration of farmers. Due to water shortage in agricultural areas, many farmers are forced to leave their farms and migrate to urban areas looking for any type of job on which to live.

Musa'id is one of those affected by Yemen's water shortage problems. An active farmer since his childhood when he helped his father on the family farm instead of playing with other children, he used simple farming tools to improve his position and increase his production and yield.

However, Musa'id is like many who migrated to Sana'a after losing his farm due to water shortage in his Taiz village.

“I met Musa'id with a group of guys living in a small room. They had come together to look for work. Long after leaving their village, they still were hoping either to find jobs or return home if the water shortage problem is solved one day,” Al-Ariqi writes.

He adds, “Such migration increases the water shortage problem in cities, especially with the added need for water for daily use in urban areas.”

While Yemen receives approximately 65 to 93 billion cubic meters of rain annually, every area has a different rainfall rate, according to its topography and proximity to sea level.

Between 1990 and 2000, national water consumption increased from 4.5 billion cubic meters to 13 billion cubic meters. This number is increasing and forecast to reach 19.7 billion cubic meters by 2020.

The old woman mentioned at the beginning was forced to return to the well, walking for hours to bring her children water, regardless of the difficulties she faced.