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Yemen's Water Crisis Looms
  Written By: Moneer Al-Omari ( YEMEN POST STAFF)
  Article Date: August 11, 2008 


Water security is among the priorities for many countries, as experts believe that the approaching wars will be those of water and not oil as was the case in the past, especially in the Middle East where water resources are depleting very quickly.

The Middle East region, to which Yemen belongs, is ranked among the dry regions of the world with few or no small rivers in most countries. All statistics and pointers indicate that Yemen has already entered the danger zone concerning water security, as the country suffers from a serious water crisis. 


Located within a dry and semi-arid area, Yemen is among the world's poorest countries in water resources. The Yemeni individual's share of water per year is among the lowest worldwide.

Yemen's average annual rainfall ranges from 500 to 800 mm in the high lands, 50 to 100 in the coastal areas and less than 50 mm in the desert areas.

According to the World Bank, a Yemeni's per capita share of recoverable water resources amounts to 137 m3, against 1,250 m3 in MENA region and 7,500 m3 worldwide. Thus, the water poverty line is estimated at 1,000 m3.

The share could decrease to 75 m3 over the next 20 years, prompted mainly by the inflated growth of population and the expansion of industrial, development and agricultural activities.

Only 4 percent of Yemen's total area is apt for agriculture, while the rest is waste and desert lands. Two thirds of this area is cultivated with cereals, 15 percent by vegetables and fruits, 10 percent with livestock grass and 9 percent for qat trees. Being lucrative, the area cultivated with qat is markedly expanding.

Yemen depends primarily for water on rain as well as underground water. Yemen enjoys desert climate and this is the reason for the low rainfall. Unlike some Arab countries like Syria, Egypt, Lebanon and Iraq, the country has no rivers.

Qat contributes about 5 percent of GDP, some 29 percent of the total agricultural value added. It absorbs 1/4 of agricultural workforce. However, it is one of the key reasons for the speedy depletion of water resources.

Water sustainability started to worsen in the 1970s, with some basins like those of Taiz, Sana'a, Sa'ada and Amran on their way to complete depletion. World Bank statistics indicate that over 50,000 tube wells have been dug for drinking and agricultural purposes in Yemen.

In Sana'a basin alone, there have been over 13,000 water wells dug over the last three decades, causing depletion for the basin and threatening the future of the coming generations.

Internal migration

Historians agree that Yemenis started to immigrate outside the country during the collapse of Mareb Historic dam. This collapse caused thousands of people to leave for other countries in Mesopotamia, Egypt and other countries. Mareb Dam's collapse marks the first collective migration journeys for Yemenis.

The depletion of water resources in some rural areas forced their inhabitants to emigrate to nearby cities or the capital, therefore causing a bigger crisis in cities where there is over-demand on water, electricity, sanitation services, hospitals and schools.

Water experts expect the crisis of water in Yemen to loom especially under the unprecedented hot weather and climate change.

Teacher Khalid Al-Omari, 32, from Al-Sharaf area reveals that shortage of water and the dryness of some streams that used to provide the area with drinking water caused him to leave his village to Ibb city.

"The nearby streams got depleted and thus locals were forced to fetch water on donkeys from very far areas. Sometimes, you go for five km to bring 40 liter of water which can only be enough for cooking and drinking purposes. You do washing or cleaning of clothes once a week," said Al-Omari.

"Though I love my village, the circumstances and the lack of water forced me to leave for the city where government water networks are available. I think the increase of population is responsible for the water crisis as well as the decreasing level of rainfall,'' he added.

Way out

Specialists suggest that the Ministry of Water and Environment should promote water-saving irrigation systems, especially when 3/4 of underground water is consumed for irrigation following traditional means.

They also stress that the ministry should promote public awareness on the social impacts of water resources depletion. It must also points to the negative effects behind irrational consumption of water as well as the random drilling of water wells.

Further, experts see that it is important to build more dams and barriers across the nation in order to make the utmost use of floods and rain falls during rainy seasons. It should also adopt the traditional system for rain harvesting as for digging water cisterns and reservoirs which could help enrich underground water and irrigate crops under dryness.

Water Ministry presented three years ago an integrated strategy for addressing the water crisis in the country. This strategy advocates rationalizing the use of underground water and preventing any future drilling of wells especially in those basins close to depletion.

It also calls concerned authorities to rethink over its development plans and to turn all the economic activities, relying on water, to coastal areas in order to help redistribute the population and reduce the pressure imposed on the water-basin areas.