Yemen Water Sector: Reality and Challenges [Archives:1999/48/Health]

November 29 1999

By: Ismail Alghaberi
Yemen Times

Water management has traditionally been prioritized by the government in Yemen. Today, a modern nation-wide water sector is being developed within the emerging unified Yemeni state. This is taking place in the face of a severe water crisis, which has been acknowledged, and duly responded to, with measures that address institutional issues.
The institutional setting of the water sector was recognized as the main obstacle, not only in crisis management, but even in day-to-day water management. Because institutional failure was the key factor in the perpetuation of the water problem, addressing the institutional issue is therefore considered the key to water crisis management in Yemen.
Practical steps were initiated in this respect in 1995 by the establishment of the National Water Resources Authority (NWRA), formation of the Steering Committee (S.C.) and Technical Secretariat (T.S.) for Water Supply and Sanitation Sector Reform (WSSSR).
The Institutional Setting:
The water sector in Yemen comprises three sub-sectors:
– Water resources sub-sector.
– Water supply and sanitation sub-sector (which is subdivided into two functional units: urban and rural) with mainly residential, commercial and industrial customers.
– Agricultural, irrigation, and drainage sub-sector.
These three sub-sectors are interlaced with three ownership sectors, namely: the public, private and cooperative sectors.
The establishment of NWRA was the first step in restructuring the sector, in an effect to create a regulatory and policy making framework, which was conspicuously lacking in the institutional setting. NWRA is now composed of the four water resource units which were previously attached to various ministries and agencies. Entrusted with the task of nationwide water resource management with a mandate to undertake all related allocation, policy making, basin management and regulatory functions, NWRA is organized into three main divisions. These three divisions are; policy and programming, studies and information and implementation and monitoring.
The National Water and Sanitation Authority (NWSA) is the public water utility organ functioning in urban areas. With 4500 employees it is over-centralized, with inefficiencies manifest in almost all its operations as indicated by high losses, low collection, over-staffing, low coverage, and demoralized staff, etc. National tariffs are artificially set well below levels necessary for cost recovery and conservation of water resources, thus discouraging further development, and adding to the existing financial burdens. Inadequate performance coupled with slow implementation of projects is leading to unsustainable services. To reverse this trend it was necessary to conceive a program of reform which is to be the (WSSS) project, based on the reform of NWSA.
The General Authority of Rural Electricity and Water (GAREW) is the public project management group of water schemes for human settlements with populations below 30,000 inhabitants. After implementation, such schemes are handed over to the cooperatives or the community. Most schemes are lacking in operation and maintenance. GAREW is also lacking in implementation capacity with 500 out of 1783 schemes lying unfinished since 1992.
In the context of the reform process sectarian challenges are translated into institutional challenges, which become a question of how to change the institutional setting to become more responsive to challenges posed by the water crisis situation. In this context this paper advocates the priority of human resources development, and advances the line of argument one step further, inferring that what is defective in the prevailing setting is not really the elements. Such relationships are marked by conflict due to the absence of a grand unifying objective. If such relationships could be transformed to ones marked by force, a healthy situation could be created for HRD, and therefore for reform.
Ongoing Initiatives:
Fortunately, this trend towards accord has already been kick-started with the recent initiative taken by NWRA to prepare an agreement defining their respective responsibilities in the water sources domain. It constitutes an interface or gray area between their respective mandates. If this agreement could be developed to other domains of mutual coordination and cooperation, then one key aspect of institutional failure could be remedied.
The re-election of the government in April, 1997 provided a confirmation of the government’s intention to proceed with water reform. The following statement was included in the government’s agenda in June.
a. Improving and rehabilitation of existing installations, through intensive maintenance and enhancement of their capacities to meet increasing demand of drinking water, as well as expediting project implementation and achieving high efficiencies in their performance.
b. Encouragement of private sector and community participation in the construction and installation of water supply and sanitation projects.
c. Institutional restructuring of the Water Supply and Sanitation Sector to meet the objectives of the Local Government Development Program and the principle of financial and administrative decentralization, as well as the appropriate delegation of authority to achieve these objectives.
When the Water Supply and Sanitation Sector Reform project was launched, a Steering Committee and a Technical Secretariat were formed to manage and administer this reform. The frame of reference for the reform is the policy document passed by Cabinet Resolution No. 237, dated 12/11/97. This document defines reform objectives, principles, and policies and is based on the Policy and Strategy Study Report developed between 1995 and 1996. Roles of various bodies commissioned with the implementation of these reform policies are defined. These bodies are mainly SC/TC and NWSA. The document also defines in broad terms the new regulatory functions of NWSA, and executive functions of the Regional Corporations (RC) to be created. Other aspects of the reform process are the ones such as full cost recovery, HRD and community participation as highlighted by the policy document.
The resolution stipulates that the reform process shall be conducted in two overlapping phases during an overall period of 10 years (max). The first phase of 3 years duration shall introduce decentralization by delegation of wider responsibilities to NWSA branches, and prepare them to undertake all executive functions within the legal framework to be established during this phase. The second phase of 7 year’s duration comprises the establishment of regional corporations based on detailed studies. This phase, enables NWSA to undertake its new role as a regulatory body and enables the RC’s and autonomous branches to undertake full executive functions.
Within the framework of the WSSSR project, Rada’a was chosen as a pilot scheme for decentralization, based on an agreement concluded with the Ministry. This scheme provides a valuable experience which would be applied to other new branches, including Tarim, the secondary towns project and the remaining NWSA branches.
The WSSSR project is financed by German technical assistance. Other donors continue to take a leading role in addressing water issues in Yemen and provide valuable advice, support and finance for capacity building and modernization of the sector institutions.