Taizi women must walk hours out of the city every day to find drinking water.
In the report, the Carnegie Endowment warned that the capital Sana’a, with a population that is growing at a rate of 7% a year, could be the first capital in the world to run out of water.
“In Taiz and Ibb, groundwater resources are effectively depleted. Negotiations are underway to pump desalinated water up from the Red Sea. The bulk supply cost is estimated at about $1.75 per cubic meter,” the report said.
“Overall, the groundwater overdraft is about 30% country-wide (i.e. 30% more water is being pumped than the sustainable yields of the aquifers). In some basins, the overdraft is as high as 250%,” the report added.
The report said consumers in parts of Sana’a only receive water from their pipes once every two weeks. In Taiz, water is supplied only once every 3 - 4 weeks. Of the 90% of water resources that is used for irrigation, a very large percentage goes to Qat cultivation.
“Water is one of the underlying challenges that needs to be addressed in order to secure the long-term development and stability of Yemen,” Ginny Hill, an associate fellow at Chatham House’s Middle East and North Africa Program told The Media Line.
“Everybody is so focused on urgent concerns about anti-terrorism, but there are a number of essential issues that are facing the Yemeni government,” she said.
“If the challenge around water can’t be addressed, the danger is that there will be less stability because the state will have less revenue and less control.”
Civil society organizations say the conference organizers must take a comprehensive approach to the challenges facing Yemen including the water problem.
The government is establishing water-management projects in urban areas but has failed to establish water administration in areas where tribal authorities dominate.
“The concern is the population growth, which means there is a higher demand on the already-stressed water resources,” Walid Salih, a water expert and regional coordinator for the MENA region at the United Nations University told The Media Line.
“Yemen has a dual problem when it comes to water resources,” he said. “They don’t have proper management and they lack the financial resources to do more water-resource-management plans. Sometimes they have floods, but if you don’t have the facilities to capture this water, it’s lost.”
“Most experts believe that the whole region will be hit as far as climate change is concerned,” Salih said. “And of course the first victim of climate change is water.”
The chief experts of Sana’a Basin Water Management project Engineer Ali Hassan, warned of disaster water run away in Sana’a Basin Water in 2025.
He pointed out that according to empirical studies, the water would end up in Sana’a in 2025.
“Our goal is extend the life of the basin, but misfortune is close to be happened, pointing out that the amount of the shortage in Sana’a basin 200 million cubic meters annually, while annual feeding not exceeding the 80 million meters,” Hassan said.
Hassan said that the Ministry of Water and Environment carried out Network project by using modern irrigation systems, drip irrigation to cover (4) thousands hectares of agricultural land belonging to the Sana’a Basin.
“Large amounts of the country’s water is used to irrigate Qat, which represent a major part of Yemen’s informal economy and is consumed extensively by the Yemeni population, who chew on it, sometimes for several hours a day, to achieve a rush,” he added.
According to the Carnegie report, the water crisis is a result of several factors, including rising domestic consumption, poor water management, corruption, and wasteful irrigation techniques.
Yemen is ranked by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization as one of the thirstiest nations in the world, with one of the lowest rates of fresh water availability.
But Gamal al-Qadasi, the official in Sana’a Basin management, said that they could save 14 million cubic meters annually.
In urban areas, only about 56% of the population has access to network water supply, and only 31% to sewerage. In rural areas, about 45% of the population has access to safe water, and only 21% to adequate sanitation. In addition, towns – particularly the largest cities such as Sana’a and Taiz - are very short of water, and are faced with very high cost for new supply options. Low access of the poor to water and sanitation services has negative and impoverishing effects on public health, children’s education and general well being.
The World Bank clarifies that the overall supply is 5.1 billion m3, but the renewable supply is only 2.5 billion m3 while demand is 3.5 billion m3, meaning the deficit of 1 billion m3 every year! This deficit is recovered by mining fossil groundwater. The difference of 5.1 and 2.5 billion m3 in supply is loss through evaporation and floodwater flowing into the sea.
“While demand for water is still rising, groundwater resources are virtually all developed. Since none-renewable groundwater is being mined, the large part of the economy depending on the groundwater resource is now under threat. Competition for water is growing between users at both the local level and between town and country,” the report said.
The report said groundwater resources are being depleted overall, but the situation is uneven. In the cities and towns along the coast, the water problem is generally less severe, and groundwater resources are expected to be adequate for the medium term.
Water expert at the Ministry of Water and Environment Engineer Saad al-Hawsali, said that the number of wells drilled in the basin, more than 60,000, are well exhausted.
“Because of the water scarcity and lack of management, private diggers take water from depleting wells that are dug without a license,” al-Hawsali said
Al-Hawsali points out to there be other reasons for the Sana’a Basin water crisis, including population growth and the random digging.
Dr. Ahmad al-Asbahi, Shura Council member, stressed that the issue of depletion of the Sana’a Basin Water is very serious and requires a hard and fast solution to implement legal obligations towards offenders.