Written By: Observer Staff
Article Date: Aug 26, 2008 - 5:15:34 AM
Experts say there is a need to reduce Sanaa city's two million population by half in order to confront the water crisis in this city
SANAA, 14 August 2008 (IRIN) - Water availability in Yemen has been worsening by the year and the government has no clear strategy on how to deal with the problem, experts have said.
They say water shortages, which affect about 80 percent of the country’s 21 million people, are exacerbated by the high fertility rate, rapid urbanisation, the cultivation of `qat’ (a mild narcotic), a lack of public awareness, and the arbitrary digging of wells.
The experts made the remarks at a symposium on 12 August in Sanaa city organised by the Sheba Centre for Strategic Studies (SCSS), a local think-tank. Entitled Water Security in Yemen: Challenges and Solutions, the symposium brought together dozens of local officials and experts on water.
Khalil al-Maqtari, an official at the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation and an expert of topography, said the water situation was worsening as there was no effective strategy to manage its use.
“The total amount of water used annually is 3.5 billion cubic metres (cu.m.), of which 93 percent is used in agriculture, 6 percent in households and 1 percent by industry. The renewed fresh water is 2.5 billion cu.m. per year. The gap between used water and renewed fresh water is 1 billion cu.m. a year,” he said, adding that 4.6 billion cu.m. would be required in 2025 as by that time Yemen’s population will have doubled.
Al-Maqtari said per capita use was 125 cu.m. per year and that by 2025 this would drop to 62.5 cu.m a year. Globally, average per capita water consumption was 1,500 cu.m. per year, he said. “About 92 percent of Yemen’s land is arid, semi-arid and desert,” he said.
Deep wells to blame?
Nasser al-Awlaqi, a professor of economy and a former minister of water, said the water crisis in Yemen was largely due to agriculture, which depended on ground water from deep wells.
Rapidly depleting water resources have forced many residents of Sanaa to buy water from private sources He said farmers used to make do with surface water and rain, not ground water, but with the introduction of appropriate technology, they began to dig wells. “Before 1970, there were no wells 800 metres deep. They were manually dug and their depth was only 20-40 metres,” he said.
Al-Awlaqi said the expansion of agriculture began in the 1990s after the government benefited from foreign loans and Yemeni expatriate fund transfers.
Exacerbating the problem was the additional demand caused by an influx of some two million Yemenis who had worked in the Gulf States but returned to Yemen after the 1991 Gulf war, he said.
Arbitrary digging of wells meant water could be found at depths of 800-1,000 metres, he said. “Influential figures are digging wells in Sanaa city, with the Ministry of Water unable to do anything to stop them. The Water Law is not being implemented,” he said.
The law forbids arbitrary digging and requires prior permission from the ministry. “In 1974, the area irrigated by ground water was 30,000-35,000 hectares. But now over 400,000 hectares is irrigated by ground water. At that time, Yemen produced 1.2 million tonnes of cereals but now production has dropped sharply as agriculture is not fed by rain,” he said.
According to Al-Maqtari there are over 60,000 wells and over 350 water drillers nationwide, and the rate of water level-diminution in these wells was 6.3 percent per year.
Al-Awlaqi said most farmers still used a traditional irrigation method known as “flooding”; only 8 percent of cultivated land was irrigated by modern means. “And this further depletes ground water,” he said. Urban sprawl in the Yemeni capital Sanaa. The city is growing at a rate of between 7 and 8 percent a year Ineffective dams
Participants said farmers are not able to make use of the large quantity of rainwater - 68 billion cu.m. a year - due to the ineffectiveness of dams. Al-Awlaqi said dams were built arbitrarily and were not practical. “Very few were built adequately. Dams are not looked after and most of them have been filled with filth. US$22 billion was spent on dams. But their capacity is only 80 million cubic metres (mcm). Yemen is a poor country but its resources are wasted,” he said.
He went on to say that there are dozens of studies on water that cost millions of dollars but they have gathered dust on shelves. “Some are too old to be used. These studies were also not accessible to researchers,” he said.
“We must create public awareness on the problem of water, which everybody should understand”.
According to the experts at the symposium, another factor that further aggravates water shortages is urbanisation. Most people in Yemen are concentrated in the highlands in the northern part of the country. Al-Awlaqi said the Sanaa basin could dry up in 15 years due to the constant migration to it. “In the Sanaa basin, 250 mcm of water is used per year, but it is fed by 60 mcm a year. So there is a shortage as well as acute diminution of Sanaa basin’s water. In a few years people will be using only the renewed water [rainwater] - 60 mcm,” he said.
He said desalination in Sanaa was impossible as Yemen’s resources were limited and even talk about this alternative was not logical. “How do we want to benefit from desalinating sea water when it will immediately be used to irrigate `qat’?,” he said.
Mohammed al-Dubaei, a professor of geology, said there was a need to reduce Sanaa city’s two million population by half, or to 800,000, in order to confront the water crisis in this city. “Sanaa city cannot stand rapid urbanisation,” he said.
Participants suggested that the cost of living in Sanaa should be made higher in order to stop internal migration to it.
Qat is cultivated on 123,933 hectares of land in Yemen
Ali Saif Hassan, head of the SCSS, said the government should lift the subsidies on oil derivatives, including diesel which is used by farmers. “The government pays US$3 billion a year for such subsidies. Diesel represents 80 percent of `qat’ cultivation costs. If the subsidies were lifted, then no farmer would be able to cultivate qat,” he said.
Participants also suggested that increased Yemeni imports of ` qat’ from African countries over the next five years could reduce the area used for `qat’ cultivation, and hence water consumption. They said two leading bottled water companies based in Sanaa were depleting ground water resources. They not only supplied Yemen with bottled water, but also some neighbouring countries, the participants said.
• Large amount of agricultural products detained in Haradh
• Yemen accused of responsibility for rhinoceros’s endangered status
• Yemen celebrates International Ozone Day with new stage of Methyl Bromide soil fumigation alternatives
• Yemen reveals maritime pollution in Gulf of Aden
• YR 6 billion allocated for water, sanitation projects in Aden