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Yemen - Water

Since only 62% of the urban and 34% of the rural population had access to safe water in 2003, it is clear that around 60% of the population is denied access to safe water. Traditional agriculture in Yemen was once an environmentally sensitive, largely subsistence-based agro ecological system. Farmers were in rough ecological balance with their land, crops,and livestock through the active recycling of all waste products and the careful conservation and use of surface- and ground waters. Rampant poverty and a rapidly growing population have contributed to environmental degradation and resource depletion in rural and urban areas. In rural areas, the ever-increasing number of mouths to feed has led to use of water, soils, forest, andother resources at rates that exceed sustainable limits for recovery or renewal. These trends are exacerbated by strains on communal use of forests and grazing lands, unclear land and water rights, the use of modern technology (e.g., waterpumps) without adequate knowledge of its impact on natural resources, an ever increasing share of the best agricultural lands and water from bore-holes allocated to water intensive crops.

The expediency of constructing reservoirs in which to store rain-water, was recognised in Arabia at a very early date. They are generally found in localities devoid of springs, and dependent on the winter rains for a supply of water during the summer months. The most remarkable instance on record is the great dam at Mareb, assigned to 1700 BC, in the country of Saba, better known as the kingdom of the Queen of Sheba. This country was frequently ravaged by impetuous mountain torrents, while at other times it was parched for want of a sufficient supply of water ; in order, therefore, to remedy these evils, Abd-esh Shems, surnamed Saba, conceived the idea of building a dam across the gorge of a valley contained between two mountains, which he thus converted into a vast reservoir for the reception of the rain-water descending from the hills.

The dam was of cut stone, secured by iron or copper cramps, forming a prodigious mass of masonry, three hundred cubits broad, one hundred and twenty feet high, and two miles in length ; it was provided with thirty sluices, through which the water was conveyed into canals for the irrigation of the fields and gardens of Mareb, and by means of which that city became what Pliny styled it- 'the mistress of cities and the diadem on the brow of the universe.'

The dike, having somewhat suffered from the lapse of time, was consolidated by the Himyarite queen Belkis, about the commencement of the Christian era, and in her time it was deemed too strong ever to be destroyed. That catastrophe did, however, at length take place ; the dam, which had stood for seventeen hundred years, yielded to the pressure of water from within, and gave way, deluging the country far and wide, and carrying away the whole city, with the neighbouring town and people ; and thus the prosperity of Mareb was destroyed. This event took place in AD 120, and is famous in Arabian history as the Sail-el-arim, or 'rush of water from the reservoir,' by which name it is mentioned in the Koran.

Water supply is naturally constrained by virtue ofYemenss geographical location. Deforestation has led to less water retention and greater run off, while insufficient attention to watershed management in general and reforestation in particular has meant that environmental degradation has gone unchecked. Water shortage is the most crucial natural constraint faced by the country (as reflected by insufficiency of the annual rainfall to recharge water table) and is likely to remain so unless drastic measures are taken.

The total renewable fresh-water resources of the country are estimated at 2500 MCM per year, of which 1500 MCM is surface water and 1000 MCM is ground water. The per capita share of renewable water resources was (125) cubic meter per annum in 2005 and declines at a rate equal to that of population increase. The total annual water use in the country is estimated at 3200 MCM. The water deficit, i.e. gap between water use and renewable water resources was estimated at 920 MCM in 2005. This trend, if maintained, will lead to the depletion of ground water, with negative consequences on food production, drinking water supply and the environment.

Farmers have been provided with subsidized pumps and diesel to run them, without educationon appropriate water-conserving techniques, leading to over-utilisation of tube wells. Corruption and ineffective justice system compoundedby a civil service structure that is not merit based, exacerbate the problem by leading to poor enforcement of rules that control the installation and operation of water pumps. In addition, up to 80 percent of new wells in the Highlands are used for Qat (which has no nutritional value) production, thus crowding out food crops. Qat has become the dominant crop due to its greater profitability and low risk.

Ground water aquifers decline 1-7 meters annually with rare recharge. Some basins have become very dry and some cultivation has been up-rooted due to the depletion of ground water, which is highest in the North (Sasadh basin). Water scarcity has a major negative effect on the jobs and income situation of the country - both agriculture and industry are adversely impacted. Lack of adequate water sources - especially in rural areas - overburdens women as they are responsible for fetching water (84.3% of women fetch water from remote sources).

Lack of attention to efficient use of the limited water supply due to the fact that the individual farmer does not have to cover the full social cost of the water he uses, leads to huge waste of this most valuable and limited resource. Modern irrigation methods such as drip and sprinkler irrigation are not widely used due to their high private cost. Choice of crops are made based on what appears to be cheap water, hence leading to a shift to water intensive crops and bringing more land under irrigated as opposed to rain fed farming. The increasing scarcity of water means that not only the agricultural sector has no scope for further expansion by bringing new land under cultivation, but that it must even rethink the use of existing agricultural lands, if the sector is not going to peter out due to depletion of water resources. Growth, at the intensive margin, meaning using the existing areas more wisely by increasing efficiency of water use and yields is possible. This is largely so because the current irrigation practices are wasteful, yields are well below levels under comparable ecological conditions in other countries and post harvest losses are high.

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Page last modified: 22-05-2015 23:39:26 ZULU