Yemen is running out of water

With Yemen running out of water soon, action is needed immediately to sidestep disaster.

Yemen is expected to run out of water by 2040 (1).

Let that sink in.

Water tank projects will no longer be an option. Water pumping and well creation projects will not be an alternative either; there will be no water to dig up.

Currently, 50% of Yemen’s population struggles to find water (2). The water-scarce nation is speeding toward disaster due to poor water management, rapid population growth, and environmental changes. This requires urgent steps such as spreading awareness, research and development of best practices, and the ever-elusive diplomacy.

Yemen has been aware of its dwindling water supplies since the 1970s. Sadly, water management did not improve as the Yemeni government did little to address the issue. Water has been pumped unchecked at unsustainable levels since the introduction and subsidization of diesel water pumps. The areas irrigated by pumps have increased from 37,000 hectares in the ’70s to 400,000 hectares in the 2000s (1). For scale, that would be like irrigating land the size of (roughly) half of New York City in the '70s. Then, in a matter of 30 years, irrigating land FIVE TIMES the size of New York City. The World Bank funded Yemen’s export of crops(1) which use 90% of Yemen’s water. A water-scarce country is essentially exporting water through its crops.

The introduction of diesel water pumps encouraged many farmers to abandon Yemen’s famous method of dry-farming on terraces. Dry farming does not require irrigation (groundwater) and relies on minimal rainfall and drought-resistant crops. Also, in Yemen, crops used to rely on ancient forms of water harvesting during flood seasons. Instead of these reliable methods, many farmers rushed to adopt the planting of Qat, an irrigation-intensive and inedible cash crop that consumes 30% of the water used on crops (3).

Environmental challenges like changing rain patterns and rising sea levels have worsened matters. Rising sea levels and over-digging increase the salinity of wells along the coast. Yemen’s coast has the best soil(3). However, without an adequate water supply, crops will be lost.

As groundwater depletes, Yemen and all those working in Yemen should take action right away. Here are some proposed solutions collected from the readings:

Spread Awareness

This issue needs to come to the forefront with urgency. All parties need to understand how we got here and where to go. The people of Yemen have to understand the issue and how they can help. Yemenis are more likely to accept policy changes needed for their survival. People and influential organizations can put pressure on politicians to address the issues more directly. Also, donors supporting NGOs can encourage key projects to address this issue.

Governing Bodies

Governing bodies in Yemen need to work together for their collective survival. Bordering countries need to assist Yemen as their countries will be on the receiving end of those desperately trying to flee for survival. The biggest polluters on the planet have a responsibility to help fund these projects (USA, China, and others).

Research and Analysis

Innovative solutions have already been put in place like fog screens in Manakha, Yemen collecting water in foggy areas (4). Increasing rainwater collection, purification, and desalination plants are potential options. Investigating geothermal energy use for wastewater treatment plants and desalination plants(5). International agencies can provide research to determine rain-fed, drought-resistant, fast-maturing crops to feed the population with as little water as possible. NGOs can help launch these initiatives and spread awareness and training.

Everyone has the power to spread awareness and ask their favorite non-profit what they can do to help address this urgent problem. Here are some ideas for non-profits working in Yemen:

  1. Launch awareness campaigns in Yemen.

  2. Create training programs for rainwater collection and purification.

  3. Invest in fog screens where it makes sense.

  4. Engage with farmers to come up with alternatives to Qat, water-intensive plants, and farming techniques.

  5. Non-profits can try to influence local politicians to do their part.

  6. Non-profits can lobby international agencies to take on bigger projects like research into drought-resistant crops, desalination plants, and wastewater treatment plants.

  1. Yemen’s Environmental Crisis Is The Biggest Risk for Its Future, The Centruy Foundation.

  2. Water Shortage In Yemen, ESRI

  3. Varisco, D. Pumping Yemen Dry: A History of Yemen’s Water Crisis. Hum Ecol 47, 317–329 (2019).

  4. Yemen is fighting Its Severe Water Shortage by Havesting Its Fog, Science Alert.

  5. Chandrasekharam, D. Geothermal energy for food and water security for Yemen: a review. Arab J Geosci 14, 253 (2021).

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