Diesel represents 80 percent of `qat’ cultivation costs.
“Our goal is to lengthen the basin’s durability, but ultimately the disaster is coming”, said Hassan, specifying that the annual volume of water from rainfall amounts to 80 million square meters, compared to the 200 million square meters that are needed to sustain the Sana’a basin.
Experts such as Mohammed al-Dubaei, a professor of geology, say there is a need to halve Sana’a city’s two million population in order to confront the water crisis in the city. “Sana’a city cannot stand rapid urbanization,” he said. Water availability in Yemen has been worsening by the year and the government has no clear strategy on how to deal with the problem.
They say water shortages, which affect about 80 percent of the country’s 21 million people, are exacerbated by the high fertility rate, rapid urbanization, the cultivation of ‘qat’ (a mild narcotic), a lack of public awareness, and the arbitrary digging of wells.
These remarks have been repeated since the symposium of August 2008 organized by the Sheba Centre for Strategic Studies (SCSS) and a local think-tank entitled ‘Water Security in Yemen’. The symposium brought together dozens of local officials and experts on water.
According to the latest official statistics, the total amount of water used annually is 3.5 billion cubic metres (cu.m.), of which 93% is used in agriculture, 6% in households and 1% 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. The additional problem of a predicted doubling in Yemen’s population by 2025 means that 4.6 billion cu.m. would be required to sustain the country.
Water use per capita in Yemen is currently at 125 cu.m. per year, but expected to drop to 62.5 cu.m a year by 2025. Globally, average water consumption per capita is 1,500 cu.m. per year. About 92 % of Yemen’s land is arid, semi-arid and desert.
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 Sana’a 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 meters deep. They were manually dug and their depth was only 20-40 meters.
According to the Ministry of Water and Environment 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 confirmed that arbitrary digging of wells meant water could be found at depths of 800 - 1,000 meters. “Influential figures are digging wells in Sana’a city, with the Ministry of Water unable to do anything to stop them. The ‘Water Law’ is not being implemented.”
The above mentioned 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 are irrigated by ground water. At that time, Yemen produced 1.2 million tones of cereals but now production has dropped sharply as agriculture is not fed by rainfall,” claimed al-Awlaqi.
Experts say that 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. The dams were built arbitrarily and as a result are not practical. Very few were built adequately. Dams are not looked after and most of them have been filled with filth. Over US$22 billion has so far been spent on dams, but their capacity is only 80 million cubic meters (mcm). Yemen is a poor country but its resources are wasted.
The Ministry of Water and Environment said that the option of desalination in Sana’a 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?,” one of their ministers said.
On a slightly more optimistic note, Entisar al-Hareth, media expert, reviewed the successes achieved so far through the establishment of water users’ associations in the Sana’a basin and the training of these associations. For his part, the Coordinator of Research and Social Stimulation in the project, Hisham al-Qadasi, said that if the project succeeded, it would be implemented in a further eight governorates. He added that the Sana’a Basin Water Management Project has been able to supply 14 million square meters of water per year. Participants suggested that the cost of living in Sana’a should be made higher in order to stop internal migration.
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.
The National Water Sector Strategy and Investment Program (NWSSIP) 2005-2009 and the Joint Annual Review (JAR III) 2008 report also recommended paying more attention to modern irrigation systems and increasing investment in these systems. It recommended giving the staff working in the irrigation sector appropriate incentives and training to improve the irrigation services.
Further recommendations were discussed in previous workshop held on the update of the 2005-2009 NWSSIP and 2008 JAR III on Wednesday, July 9. It was conducted by the Technical Secretary / Reform of the Institutional Framework in the Urban Water Supply and Sanitation Sector, Ministry of Water and Environment, in cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation with an audience of around 160 participants from different sectors.
The National Water Sector Strategy is supported by donors working in Yemen as a developmental plan approved by the cabinet in mid-2005. The first and second Joint Annual Reviews of 2005 and 2006 led the government to decide on updates to its strategy in its fourth year. The strategy update requires the forming of six work groups headed by representatives of bodies working in these sectors.
The NWSSIP update is based on some specific problems: water resources scarcity, over-exploited aquifers, and low access to safe water and sanitation. According to the draft of the NWSSIP update, all these problems can be solved only one way: by improved water resource management. Clearer policies for dealing with qat may help to soften the negative effects on farmers, public health and the environment, especially water resources, the report recommended.
Much natural rainwater is pointlessly 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.
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.
According to the World Health Organization, 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. 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 diarrhea diseases including cholera, typhoid fever and salmonella. Lack of potable water is also a common cause of food poisoning, other gastrointestinal viruses and dysentery.