Written By: Thuria Ghaleb
Article Date: Feb 12, 2008 - 5:04:59 AM
Much of these rainwaters are vainly wasted when Yemen desperately depends on this vital resource.
Many areas in Yemen suffer a severe crisis in water supply for drinking, irrigating agricultural lands and other vital needs. Most Yemenis have stopped drawing water from the many wells which have recently dried up. The water crisis in Yemen makes people worried, even children, who are the ones mostly responsible for bringing water from springs and wells.
Hazards resulting from the water crisis in Yemen was the topic of a scientific lecture prepared by the General Union of Yemeni Students and Youth in India on the evening of Saturday, February 2. Wadi’ al-Sharjabi, a Yemeni environmental researcher at Indian Mysore University, discussed how to deal with such hazards and other various topics related to such a crisis in his lecture.
A lack of water to meet daily needs is a reality for many people around the world and has serious health consequences. Globally, water scarcity already affects four out of every 10 people. The situation is getting worse due to population growth, urbanization and increased domestic and industrial water use.
By 2025, nearly 2 billion people will be living in countries or regions with an absolute water shortage, where water resources per person fall below the recommended level of 500 cubic meters per year, according to the World Health Organization. This is the minimum amount of water a person needs for healthy and hygienic living.
The WHO also highlights the health consequences of water scarcity, such as diarrhoeal diseases including cholera, typhoid fever and salmonellosis. Lack of potable water is also a common cause of food poisoning, other gastrointestinal viruses and dysentery.
There are no rivers flowing across the country to supply the nation with its water requirements, so Yemen depends completely on rainfall and groundwater. Al-Sharjabi’s lecture showed that the annual rainfall in the middle of the country ranges from 400 to 1,100 millimeters while it reaches just 100 mm in the coastal areas. Moreover, the whole country depends on around 45,000 wells which quickly dry up.
Yemen’s Strategic Vision 2025, recently issued by the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation, estimates that the groundwater stored in all basins located in the different governorates amounts to 20 billion cubic meters. It is also estimated that Yemen will exhaust around 12 billion cubic meters from the present time until 2010, so the stored groundwater reserves will not prove sufficient for many more years.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report shows that the average annual amount of renewed waters per Yemeni amounts to just 125 cubic meters. That means that each individual in Yemen consumes just 10 percent of the amount of water used per person in the Middle East and northern Africa, which is 1,250 cubic meters. Such a small amount of water allowed per Yemeni represents a tiny amount compared to the world average per person of 7,500 cubic meters. Yemen is one of the ten poorest countries which suffer from water shortages, according to the FAO report. About 4 million hectares, 7 percent, of Yemeni lands can be cultivated with various crops. However, the severe shortage of water in Yemen badly affects agricultural production, so in reality less than 2 million hectares, about 3 percent, of these suitable lands are cultivated.
The water crisis in Yemen is one of the country’s most threatening disasters. It is also one of the serious factors affecting poverty, since it deprives huge numbers of Yemeni workers from practicing their main source of livelihood in the agricultural fields.
The lecture showed that the Sana’a water basin is in danger of drying out, similar to what happened to Taiz basin in the south and the Sada’a basin in the north. Only the Hadramout water basin, located in the east of the country, still has an acceptable amount of water, at 10 billion cubic meters. This amount represents the largest quantity of stored water in the whole of Yemen.
Official statistics show that only 50 percent of Sana’a’s population, 2 million people, can be supplied with water. Just under 50 percent of people living in other Yemeni governorates can get clean drinking water. However, houses in many areas of Yemen are not originally provided with water supply service. Some studies estimate that the stored water of Sana’a governorate will be exhausted in the next 10 to 15 years.
Taiz city has been suffering from a serious crisis in drinking water since the mid-1980s after the exhaustion of wells in the al-Haimah area. As a result, more than half a million Taiz houses are supplied with water only once every 45 days through the national water network. Digging more wells in that city and its suburbs helped to relieve the crisis so that each house can now get water once every 15 to 20 days.
Despite seasonal rains which sometimes cause floods in some Yemeni governorates, the World Bank classifies Yemen as one of the world’s poorest countries in terms of water resources.
Qat is one of those rare kinds of trees which needs huge quantities of water, causing great strain on the water resources in Yemen. The lands allowed for cultivating qat trees have expanded to include a much greater area than before. Experts have estimated that more than 60 percent of the water consumed in Yemen is used to irrigate qat crops.
It is estimated that qat trees annually consume about 800 million cubic meters of water. About 4,000 wells in Sana’a alone are randomly used to water qat crops. Such a thing leads to a decrease in water resources at an average of 3 to 6 meters annually. Farmers’ greediness to yield more in a shorter time period has added to the spread of the qat chewing phenomenon among Yemenis, both males and females, especially during the last three decades. Chewing qat has changed from a habit originally practised once in a while to a daily activity.
The Minister of Water and Environment, Dr. Abdul-Rahman al-Eryani, said that his ministry has failed to control 150 diggers working on digging random artesian wells. This is not the total number of such diggers; there are more than 950 others which dig wells in the different Yemeni governorates, said Dr. al-Eryani.
Al-Sharjabi said that there is no clear water policy to manage water resources in Yemen. Many techniques, such as the desalination of seawaters, have not been seriously considered as alternatives to relieve the severe exhaustion of the nation’s groundwater. Al-Sharjabi recommended finding urgent solutions for the crisis and doing further studies to help offset the negative effects of the water shortage.
World Water Day is celebrated every year on 22 March, with the theme for 2007 being ‘water scarcity’. Even in areas with plenty of rainfall or freshwater, water scarcity can occur. Because of the ways in which water is used and distributed, there is not always enough water to fully meet the demands of households, farms, industry and the environment.
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