(Formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

New programme to tackle water crisis

Highland areas face acute water shortages
Muhammed al-Jabri/IRIN

Yemen’s Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation (MPIC) is working to mobilise resources for an integrated programme to tackle the country’s water crisis, a senior official has said.



"Support for the water sector is receiving high priority. Water is a serious challenge for Yemen," said Nabil Shaiban, director-general of MPIC's department of international cooperation with Europe and the Americas, told IRIN.



He said the World Bank had provided US$90 million for the programme in January and other donors, including Germany, Netherlands and the UK, would also help. The programme, due to start this year, would be managed by the government, which would contribute US$250 million.



“In order to develop a full sector programme for water rather than funding fragmented projects here and there, the idea is to try and integrate four elements - urban water supply, rural water supply, irrigation, and institutional capacity," Shaiban said.



According to him, the government has talked to donors about how to address the challenges of irrigation, water-intensive qat (a mild narcotic leaf) production, and the preservation of underground water. The focus would be on rural areas where most of the population lives.



The programme would have “a great impact on poverty alleviation in rural areas," he said.



Yemen is semi-arid and its burgeoning population of 21 million faces acute water shortages. It relies heavily on groundwater, as it has no rivers, and there is no systematic harvesting of rainwater.



According to government figures, 3.5 billion cubic metres (cu.m.) of water are consumed annually in Yemen; 93 percent of this water is used in agriculture. The annual amount of replenished fresh water (from rain) is 2.5 billion cu.m. - a shortfall of one billion cu.m. a year. The quantity of rainwater per year is estimated at 68-73 billion cu.m, implying considerable scope for rainwater harvesting.



Some 93 percent of water consumed in Yemen is used in agriculture

Muhammed al-Jabri/IRIN
Some 93 percent of water consumed in Yemen is used in agriculture ...
Thursday, February 5, 2009
New programme to tackle water crisis
Some 93 percent of water consumed in Yemen is used in agriculture ...


Photo: Muhammed al-Jabri/IRIN
Some 93 percent of water consumed in Yemen is used in agriculture

Unsuccessful water projects



Ahmed al-Sufi, an information officer at the National Water and Sanitation Foundation, a government body, said most water projects in rural areas were not successful: they were either never completed or exploited by farmers or tribal leaders.



"To set up a water project in rural areas, a well is dug and concrete tanks are built. Sometimes piped networks are developed. But then the work suddenly stops because the funding has run out, or there’s a dispute over land rights," he told IRIN.



He cited an example when citizens recently tried to complete a water project in Hajja Governorate, northern Yemen. The result was tragedy when a number of citizens died after water became contaminated. Citizens had provided pumps and pipes to finish the project but because of lack of expertise they were unable to prevent sewage seeping into wells.



Tribesmen seize control



At times, tribesmen seize control of water projects nearing completion, intending to use them for irrigating their farms.



"A point in case was when tribesmen in Marib Governorate [eastern Yemen] seized control of a water project after inauguration," al-Sufi said.



These kinds of problems occur in about 80 percent of projects in rural areas, according to him.



Another problem especially in rural areas was mismanagement. "Heads of water projects are not experts. Very often these projects are not properly supervised," al-Sufi said.



GTZ report



According to a report by the German development agency GTZ entitled Yemen's Water Sector Reform Programme - A Poverty and Social Impact Analysis, control over groundwater is typically by individuals, with the bulk of water resources lying outside government control.



"Regulation was left to traditional governance systems that had no mechanism for controlling groundwater pumping, with resulting resource depletion affecting not only groundwater but also springs," the report said.



According to a GTZ fact sheet, water sector organisations needed intensive capacity development to improve their effectiveness and performance. Many towns and rural areas still lack a safe water supply. In some areas, extraction exceeds recharge by 400 percent. "This endangers not only the drinking water supply for rural and urban areas, but also the livelihoods of small-scale agriculture farmers," the document said.



Shaiban pointed out that the new water programme crucially aims to enhance the institutional and technical capacities of ministries involved in water programmes, and boost the capacities of water supply companies at governorate level.



He said the new programme envisaged setting up dams and providing modern irrigation means.



maj/at/cb

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