Yemen Water Crises and its Root Causes

Yemen Water Crises
and its Root Causes
Abdurrahman al-Eryani
Water and Environment
Advisor in the Presidential Office
Water crises in Yemen
Through out history Yemenis were able to adapt to increasing water
scarcity through societal and individual solutions based on seasonal
cropping and rain water harvesting through the following.
 Managing seasonal rainstorms water, spate and surface runoffs
through well developed traditional rules and regulations (Orff)
and communally building and maintaining a networks of very
appropriate water management structures. The most prominent
and least respected is the terracing systems.
 More than 90% of Agriculture was rain-fed. Less than ten percent
was irrigated from springs (Ghails), permanent wadi runoff, and
hand-dug wells using animal power to draw out water.
 Makeing the best use of the erratic seasonal monsoonal rain by
putting as much as possible in their terraced fields. Each terrace is
a small recharge dam.
water crises in Yemen 2
 Practicing soil cultivation that maximizes the conservation of
soil moisture. And use complicated system of cropping pattern
that encourages sustainability rather than productivity (it was
a matter of survival to prevent total failure of the crops).
 Land ownership and land tenure was well developed and
most of the agricultural activities where communal.
 Till the late 1960’s More or less the Yemenis were living in
balance with their ecosystem as subsistent farming
communities despite that it was at times very hard living.
water crises in Yemen 3
In the early sixty a revaluation took place in the north and in the late
sixty the south gain independence.
1.Starting in the early seventies so called integrated rural development
projects started focusing on modernization of agriculture focusing on
productivity. Introducing:
1. Mechanized agriculture, Tube wells, Diesel pumps, Chemical
fertilizers and pesticide.
2. Positive incentives for ground-water irrigated agriculture with
subsidized or free technical and material inputs, total ban on
imported fruits, vegetables and Qat.
3. Negative incentives for rain fed agriculture with flooding of free or
cheap wheat, oils and powdered milk from the west.
water crises in Yemen 4
at the same time:
Population growth increased very rapidly due to immunization and
improved primary health care.
Oil boom in the neighboring Saudi lead to huge shift (more than 30%) of
rural workforce out of agriculture.
• This lead to weakening of rain-fed communal agricultural activities which
in turn lead to terrace deterioration and wadi agriculture collapsing. Huge
deforestation also took place due to rapid socio-economical changes.
• For the first two decades the farmers believed that ground water is
limitless and almost free. There was no need for any kind of regulation for
the newly found resource.
• Weakening of traditional communal agriculture.
water crises in Yemen 5
• Cash crops (Qat, fruits and vegetable farming increased). flood irrigation
using ground water became wide spread.
• hundreds of drill rigs were imported to the country leading to a sharp
increase in deep water wells. (more than 100,000 tube wells).
• The government and the society failed to set up enforceable regulatory
system organizing the utilization of ground water (open access resource)
• Almost all known aquifers are in negative balance.
The situation now
• The rapid rate of ground water development benefited the agricultural
sector for now.
• The rapid rate at which Yemen’s aquifers are being exhausted is
threatening the sector itself and the nation as a whole.
• More than 60% of all rural conflicts in Yemen are water related.
• The lack of secure bulk water supplies for Yemen’s settlements.
• Low access to safe drinking water of Yemenis .
The situation now
• Yemeni cities are growing fast – Sana’a is the third fastest growing city in
the world.
• Major cities are having chronic problems in sourcing water…
• Competition is growing between users at both the local level and between
town and rural communities…
• There is no legal and practical framework for securing new supplies or
prioritizing use.
• In particular, there is no mechanism for equitable transfer of water from
lower value uses such as agriculture to higher value uses in domestic water
supply and industries
Steps taken by the government
Government has been aware of these challenges for a number
of years, and has taken some significant institutional steps:
creation of NWRA (1996)
enactment of the water law (2002)
setting up of the Ministry of Water and Environment
(MWE, 2003)
Passing of the by-laws to the Water Law (2011)
In 2004, MWE prepared the National Water Sector Strategy and
Investment Program 2005-9 (NWSSIP)…
…and an Update for 2009-2015 was prepared in 2008
Yemen’s policy choices
• NWSSIP incorporates seven related policy choices which, taken together,
represent Yemen’s approach to solving its water problems:
• Priority to safe water and sanitation services but also to sustaining the
rural and agricultural economy, with priority to the poor.
• Government responsibility to provide law, rights and regulation, and to
support water management through investment and knowledge.
• All management through a partnership approach
• Decentralization to basin level…
• Stakeholder involvement, notably through water user associations, is seen
as the basic building block of water management at the lowest level, with
stakeholders responsible (with appropriate support) for self-management
and self-regulation at the local level.
• Alignment with traditional practices and with market mechanisms
The need for a partnership approach amongst all
Yemen’s water problems are amongst the worst in the world.
Underlying this situation are two key facts:
• it is irrigating farmers who control Yemen’s water resources
• the government’s influence over behavior is limited
Therefore, management approaches have to be cooperative rather than
Yemen will only succeed in improving water management when:
the entire nation acknowledges the problems
all stakeholders cooperate together in a partnership approach
The water Agenda must be one of
the issues in the National Dialogue
and any newly representative
government must lead the way to
sustainable water resource