Yemen’s capital ‘will run out of water by 2025’

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[SANA’A, YEMEN] Water shortages in Yemen will squeeze agriculture to such an extent that 750,000 jobs could disappear and incomes could drop by a quarter within a decade, according to a report.

Poor water management and the enormous consumption of water for the farming of the popular stimulant khat are blamed for the predicted water shortages, which experts say could lead to the capital Sana’a running out of water by around 2025.

The report was produced by McKinsey&Company, an international management consulting firm, which was charged by the Yemeni government with identifying ten governmental priorities for the next decade. A preliminary draft of the report was released last month (24 September).

Yemen has no rivers, so the main sources of water are groundwater and rain. The study warns that almost 90 per cent of the country’s available freshwater is used for agriculture.

"Sana’a, the Yemeni capital, located 2,150 metres above sea level and 226 kilometres from the Red Sea shore, is facing depletion of its main groundwater basin," said Mohamed Soltan, a hydrology expert who manages the city’s groundwater basins. "Sana’a will be the first city in the world to run out of water by 2025."

"Random drilling of wells and the misuse of drilling technology are the main reasons for the intensive consumption of groundwater in Yemen," said Nayef Abu-Lohom, vice-president of the Water and Environment Center at Sana’a University. "This, in addition to lack of proper management for water resources, as most of these wells are used to irrigate khat plants."

According to the National Agricultural Research Institution, khat consumes around 6,300 cubic metres of water per hectare, whereas wheat consumes 4,300 cubic metres. In Sana’a alone, khat plants consume 60 million cubic metres of water per year — twice the amount consumed by its citizens.  

Khat is widely cultivated because it earns farmers far more than other crops — about five times as much as fruit, for example.

Moufeed El Halemy, co-deputy of Yemen’s Ministry of Water and Environment, told SciDev.Net that the national water sector reform plan "will enforce regulations on well drilling, and the efficiency of khat irrigation, among other measures".

He added that the ministry is working on a plan to provide enough water for Sana’a, but that no details have yet been announced.

The Yemeni government’s ten-point plan includes tackling issues such as corruption, population growth, gender inequality and infrastructure.