Yemen must take action to secure water supply

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Yemen must take action to secure water supply

Post by Admin on Tue Apr 10, 2007 4:16 am

Yemen must take action to secure water supply

Children in aqua-colored clothing demonstrate the importance of water for life; aqua is the Spanish word for water. Few things are as critical to the future of Yemen as water. It’s in such short supply that it could run out in a mere 10 years. Thus, World Water Day, inaugurated by the United Nations General Assembly, is of particular importance here. The commemoration of World Water Day on March 22 was intended to compel reflection and reinvigorate action on how to make more responsible use of the world’s water resources. To mark the day, an official ceremony was help at the Yemeni Cultural Center.

At the same time, a Water Fair was held in the popular al-Sabaeen Park. Families arriving at the park last Thursday found themselves in a fascinating “water discovery land,” with exhibitions on all aspects of water resources management, including ancient and modern irrigation techniques, water quality testing, and geophysics investigation. There was also a game visitors could play to increase their understanding of the water pollution cycle; games and drawing activities for children; a life-size theatre show on water; attractive blue water-clowns interacting with the public; a special World Water Day Photo spot; and many interesting documents and water-themed gifts to win.

Similar activities were organized in most other governorates, in addition to “Water Cup” football matches held in several Yemeni cities. This year’s World Water Day theme, “Coping with water scarcity,” highlighted the increasing significance of the issue, and emphasized the need for more integration and cooperation to ensure sustainable, efficient and equitable management of scarce water resources, both at international and local levels.

Water scarcity is a relative concept. It doesn’t necessarily refer to a dry or desert place; water scarcity occurs when people cannot get enough freshwater to meet their basic needs, or when the way they are using water is so unsustainable that the next generations will not get enough water to live. It can come from an imbalance between water availability and demand, from pollution of water resources that renders them unusable, from unequal distribution of water between privileged and unprivileged parts of the population, or from ineffective or absent water resources management. In Yemen, the relevance of the theme of the World Water Day 2007 is obvious.

Yemen is officially classified in UN Human Development Reports as a not only a water-scarce country, but a country facing a water crisis. The discrepancy between water use and water resources reached more than 1,000 cubic millimeters in 2005, and this figure is increasing every year. “It is not possible to be silent when we see the current serious situation of water in Yemen. I’m making use of this opportunity in this celebration to call for the creation of a national conference at the highest official and public levels to introduce a water strategy and make everyone responsible for applying the water laws and the plans of the NWRA.

We may be able to stop the final collapse of the remaining water resources,” said Abdul-Rahman al-Eryani, the Minister of Water and Environment. Experts warn of a drought that will occur in the next 50 years. Yemen lacks important water sources, such as rivers, lakes, and waterfalls. It relies entirely on groundwater and rain. Thus, it is one of the most water-poor countries in the world, and is vulnerable to future disasters. Yemen receives about 65 to 93 billion cubic meters of rain every year.

The consumption of water has increased from 4.5 billion cubic meters in 1990 to 13 billion cubic meters in 2000. This number is increasing, and is forecast to reach 19.7 billion cubic meters in 2020. Only about 20 percent of Yemen’s groundwater, which is stored in reservoirs, is renewable. This small number shows the disaster that Yemen will suffer if no effective solutions are implemented. Yemen has divided its water into four main reservoirs, which are the Red Sea, Aden Gulf, Arabian Sea, and al-Rub’ al-Khali (or Empty Quarter) reservoirs. Twenty percent of the water is in the Sana’a reservoir.

Total water consumption equals 3.5 billion cubic meters yearly, but the rain replenishes just 2.5 billion cubic meters of the groundwater to compensate. The average amount of water that each Yemeni person used in 1994 was 150 cubic meters. This amount reached 831 cubic meters per person just six years later. Yemen uses water for many different things, but agriculture is the biggest consumer of water. In 1990, agricultural lands sucked up about 2,700 million cubic meters of water. That is 93.1 percent of the total 2,899 million cubic meters used that year. Qat plants are also drinking up an increasing amount of the country’s water supply.

In 1970, the agricultural lands included about eight thousands hectares of qat. By 1996, there were 91 thousand hectares of qat planted. Qat consumes about 30 percent of the total amount of groundwater. Farmers do not seem to care that these trees are consuming most of the water in Yemen­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­, water that could be used to grow grains, vegetables and fruits. Improper irrigation techniques also waste large quantities of water. Studies show that each Yemeni person consumes just 10 percent of the amount of water used per person in the Middle East and North Africa. But Yemen’s population is increasing at an alarming rate, and more people use more water.

This growing population will place great pressure on the already limited water resources. “Water scarcity can be physical, economic or institutional, and can fluctuate over time and space,” said Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General, on World Water Day 2007. “Today, about 700 million people in 43 countries suffer from water scarcity, and by 2025 this figure could increase to more than three billion people.

Rauian is the mascot of the national water compaign.The state of the world’s waters remains fragile, and the need for an integrated and sustainable approach to water resource management is as pressing as ever. Available supplies are under great duress as a result of high population growth, unsustainable consumption patterns, poor management practices, pollution, poor investment in infrastructure, and low efficiency in water use. “The way forward is clear: strengthening institutional capacity and governance at all levels, promoting more technology transfer, mobilizing more financial resources, and scaling up good practices and lessons learned.

On this World Water Day, I call on the UN system and all stakeholders to forge stronger partnerships and take more concerted action, not only this year, but throughout the entire International Decade for Action: “Water for Life”, 2005-2015.” The traditional way of life in Yemen in the past centuries maintained a balance between the limited quantity of annually renewable water resources and modest water demands. Until 30 years ago, most of the water required for domestic supplies was obtained from springs, shallow hand-dug wells, and by harvesting rainfall into small cisterns.

Irrigated agriculture was largely based on spate water systems, with small areas irrigated from springs or from groundwater supplied by hand or by animal-power from shallow dug wells. At that time the groundwater system was in long-term equilibrium. Since the 1970s, efforts to develop the country have dramatically changed the way of life and the economic conditions in the Yemeni Republic. Among other things, these developments have drastically increased the demand for water in all sectors. Unregulated access to drilling rigs and pumps has also led to a rapid increase in groundwater extraction.

By the year 2000, the total annual water use in the country was almost 50 percent more than the estimated renewable water resources. This results in an imbalance between the renewable water resources and the demand for water in 2005. As the water table gets lower and lower, local farmers have to deepen wells, install more expensive and more fuel-consuming equipment, and suffer the increasing costs of pumped groundwater.

Along the coast, seawater intrusion has progressively degraded the traditional farms, which are gradually forced to abandon farming and find another means of income. Increasing poverty in rural areas has led to large-scale migration to the cities. Many towns in Yemen are facing a serious water shortage. The increasing urban population and declining water table has resulted in a marked reduction in per capita supply.

In several cities, like Taiz, depletion of the aquifers has resulted in a decline in the frequency of the public piped water delivery to once about every 40 days. More and more people have to rely on more costly water provided by private wells supplying water tankers. The quality of this water is questionable because these tankers have often been used for other purposes without appropriate cleaning. Some of the water used in the towns percolates back into the aquifers as wastewater.

Much of the return flow is polluted because of the lack of appropriate treatment facilities. Untreated wastewater contaminates groundwater, thus reducing the quantity of fresh groundwater available in the underlying aquifer systems. This leads to a continuous degradation of the environment. The Yemeni industrial base is small but growing. This expansion inevitably increases demand for water. As most water resources in Yemen consist of shallow groundwater, expanding industrial activity also increases the risk of pollution.

Many of the industries spill their wastewater into nearby depressions, and it percolates to the underlying aquifer systems. As a result, the untreated wastewater adversely affects the environment and people’s health. Without strict conservation and effective water management, the country is facing a very dry and inhospitable future.


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