Yemenity2010's Blog

Less could mean more for Yemeni agriculture

Posted in Blog Entry in English, Tema: Vatten by yemenity2010 on 09/09/2012

Water is getting scarce in an increasing number of countries around the world, not least Yemen. What can be done about it? Some ongoing projects are addressing the issue, for example when it comes to agriculture. Such as the Water for All project, overseen by the international NGO Operation Mercy. Specifically, it deals with more economic ways of watering crops, something normally executed by flooding. With drip irrigation, new possibilities open up. In the words of one farmer:

– The traditional method took a lot of money in order to pay workers and buy fuel for the pump. With drip irrigation, the amount of water needed is very minimal, but the crop is abundant!

Another farmer also stresses the savings of water, as well as money, time and effort put into the work when they’ve tried drip irrigation. With support from a local NGO, funds are being set up to help more farmers get the equipment necessary to try this method of watering their fields. So, could this be one way of creating a more sustainable system of agriculture and help the economy in a society presently struggling on so many levels, including internal strife in almost the entire country? At least, the organization responsible hopes so.

Read more at the Operation Mercy website.  

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Yemeni Waterloo? (English Version)

Posted in Blog Entry in English, Direkt från Jemen, Tema: Vatten by yemenity2010 on 08/09/2010

Water. Very difficult to live without and something we tend to take for granted. Not in all places though – especially not in Yemen.

Yes, the situation is serious. Recently, on vacation in Sweden, I noticed the daily Göteborgs-Posten bringing up the water crisis in Yemen. ”It’s a country with more guns than people, where the water is running out and where the population will increase to more than 50 million people within 40 years. Also, it’s a place of a quiet war between the USA and Al-Qaida” the article states in its first paragraph, after which it goes on to emphasize how the price of water has quadrupled in only four years and how much of it is used for the cultivation of qat. According to a UN prognosis there will be 50 million people here by 2050. Today they’re approximately 24 million while 60 years ago, at the end of the second world war, there were only four million.

The water issue is crucial, as the magazine Yemen Today pointed out earlier this year. The country is really about to lose its water supplies within a not so distant future, unless a radical rescue mission can turn things around. Already, half of the population lacks access to potable water at home and two thirds don’t have the possibility of covering their basic sanitary needs. According to some experts, the capital Sana’a could be drained from all its groundwater within 15 years. That would make people completely dependent on the rain, but considering the expected population growth and climate changes, that’s an unreliable source which might not be enough. Farmers who once could rely on predictable weather patterns now experience something a lot more unpredictable. Dry spells are more common, while on occasion intense flooding causes huge problems. Last year 58 people were killed in the province of Hadramaut when ”a year’s worth of rain” seemed to come all at once during a few days in October. The important agricultural sector in Yemen is threatened which could result in mass migration to the big cities already struggling with overpopulation and growing slums.

The country receives millions of dollars from among others the USA, Germany, Holland and Britain to help solve the water problem, according to Yemen Today. But the groundwater reserves continue to diminish. 90 percent of all water is used in the agricultural sector, which is estimated to be able to cut down its consumption with as much as 50 percent, using more modern methods of irrigation. However, it’s difficult convincing most farmers that these changes will pay off for them. And the cultivation of the slighly narcotic qat (or khat) leaves always seem to enter the debate; that production cycle accounts for possibly as much as 40 percent of the whole water consumption in Yemen.

The scarcity of water affects the whole of society; even education. Many children, girls especially, can’t find the time to attend school since they have to spend time on providing water for their families, and what they themselves get to drink is often dirty which causes sickness and absence from classes, explains Johan Kuylenstierna, chief technical advisor at UN Water. Additionally, schools in the countryside often lack special sanitary facilities for girls – if there are any at all.

– There is a lot of stigma around sanitation, Kuylenstierna tells Yemen Today.

– People do not know that there is a water crisis in Yemen, says Yann Le Gleau, interviewed by Yemen Times.

Le Gleau is one of two French filmmakers who chose to focus on this issue in their latest documentary. The lack of water in Africa is not news anymore, he points out, something which accounts for many Africans seeking refuge in Yemen. But the problem is ”particularly sharp” here according to the Frenchman. He was himself surprised to see so many people in Sana’a without daily access to water, especially the Akhdam people (who generally are poorer than the average Yemenis). But which is the most affected area? The paper wants to know.

– I think the Taiz region, city and rural areas, are the worst, says Le Gleau who noticed girls walking for hours to collect water.

Part of the problem is due to bad management of water, he thinks and adds that the cultivation of qat makes matters worse. There are hopeful signs, though, such as initiated projects fo desalination of seawater. The country itself is beautiful and people are friendly, he emphasises, comparing it to other places he and his colleague Sebastien Mesquida has visited and reported from earlier.

Yes, the water issue is possibly the gravest of many problems facing Yemen, according to the news bureau UPI a few months ago. Could this be a factor in causing a total collapse of the nation, which could have ripple effects on the rest of the Arabian peninsula? Disputes between different groups erupt regularly over water wells and unlicensed drilling is believed to be widespread. A few years ago The World Bank estimated that the groundwater levels in Yemen were  dropping between 20 and 65 feet a year. This is happening while the population in Sana’a has quadrupled since the 1980’s and now keeps growing at eight percent annually. Ten years ago the city had 180 functioning water wells. Today there are 80, and 70 percent of the population depend on deliveries from private water trucks (which, by the way, is the same system we use at the Training Center in Taiz where I work).

So what about desalination? After all, Yemen has access to a coastline of more than 2000 kilometers. Now the successful Hayel Saeed Group of Companies constructed the first desalination unit in the nation, primarily to provide clean water for their own installations. The saltwater will be processed by the coast, in Al-Makha before being transported inland to Taiz by trucks. The co-director of the unit believes this to be the future for Yemen in the effort to solve the dilemma. Representatives for national authorities also hope for more cooperation between the private and public sectors in this case. Saudiarabian sponsors are said to be involved in plans for expanding this project, for example by financing pipelines that could help transport more water from the coast. Sceptics point out that the existing water networks are in bad shape, which could derail the idea of desalination as the salvation for Yemen.

So, are there reasons to be optimistic or not?


SOURCES OF INFORMATION:

”Jemens vatten snart slut” by Jan Arell, Göteborgs-Posten, August 11, 2010

”Already Thirsty and Drying Fast: The Yemeni Water Crisis” by Heather Murdock, Yemen Today, February 2010

”French filmmaker to the Yemen Times: ”The management of water in Yemen is awful” by Mahmoud Assamiee, Yemen Times May 20, 2010

”Water crisis fuels Yemen’s many woes” United Press International, June 9, 2010

”Yemen To Launch First Desalination Project” by Mahmoud Assamiee, Yemen Times July 1, 2010

Also interesting in this context: water.org, an organization dedicated to global water issues; and UN Water. Also, I shouldn’t neglect to mention the fact that World Water Week is taking place this week in Stockholm, Sweden.

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