Introduction

In 2014, Yemen reported a population of 26.25 million whilst only having 120m3 per capita of water availability (USAID from the American People, 2012). This is a mere 2% of the average global per capita availability (USAID from the American People, 2012), showing the severity of Yemen’s water crisis.  The crisis is caused by several factors which effect the daily life of its citizens and thus, measures to combat this crisis must be implemented. Through investigating the causes of the water crisis, and understanding the severity of its effects, feasible solutions can be proposed.

Water is an essential unit of life, a basic human right, and thus the thought of being deprived of it, is frightening, and requires immediate attention.

Cause: Geography and Climate

Yemen’s geographic location makes it susceptible to water shortages. It’s located on a dry portion of the Arabian Peninsula and is classified as a Bwh climate. Furthermore, it doesn’t have any permanent rivers, only wadis, which are intermittently dry riverbeds. Thus, rainfall and groundwater are the only consistent sources of water (Hettle, 2016).

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Yemen doesn’t receive a lot of precipitation. Being a Bwh climate, Yemen is a desert climate, receiving no more than 200mm of precipitation annually. This is demonstrated in the graph which quantifies the average amount of rainfall per month in Yemen from 1901-2015. April, May, July and August are the only months to get moderate rainfall, whereas the rest of the months receive low amounts. To put things into perspective, from 1991-2015, Yemen’s annual average rainfall was 170.8mm, compared with Canada’s annual average of 452.6mm (The World Bank Group, 2018).

Climate change patterns predict that Yemen will receive more precipitation over the years, to the point of extreme monsoons and flooding. Flooding would lead to sea water leaking into freshwater aquifers, making the water salty and unusable. Temperatures are predicted to increase, a +2 degree increase could bring heat waves which dry up water sources. Groundwater supplies Yemen’s other primary source of clean water. “These reservoirs are being tapped into at alarming rates, faster than they can be replenished, and are predicted to decrease by 6 meters a year in crowded regions. It is predicted that approximately 10 generations worth of Yemen’s water is currently being used (The World Bank, 2014)”.

Cause: Unsustainable Agriculture

The ineffective use of water in agriculture strains Yemen’s water supply. Growing agriculture uses about 93% of Yemen’s potable water (Almas, Scholz, 2006). Farmers use labour-intensive, wasteful watering techniques such as flood irrigation to grow crops (Heffez, 2013). Flood irrigation delivers water to the crop by pipe which flows over the ground to the crop. It’s inefficient as approximately only 50% of the water utilized, goes to the crop. The practise persists because of the cultural belief that it brings honour to the farmer, as the more labour-intensive the agricultural practise, the more honour associated.

Cultivation of qat, a narcotic drug, is water intensive, using up to 40% of Yemen’s water resources (Hezzef, 2013). Growth of qat increases by 12% each year (Hezzef, 2013), and with that, the amounts of water required to grow the crop, increases. Yemen’s economy is shifting from sustenance farming, to the Qat industry to meet the demand of the population. The image on the left taken in 1993 shows the sheer amount of qat fields in Yemen which has since increased.

Cause: War

Yemen has been ravaged by war. The entire country is inhabited by military forces and is war torn. One of the consequences of this war is that water and sanitation systems have been severely damaged leaving people without clean water. Further, current water sources are controlled by opposing forces of the war, blocking deliveries of humanitarian aid of food and water to use as leverage against the opposing side. In Feb2016, Saudi planes destroyed a water reservoir that served as a source of drinking water for thirty thousand people (Suter, 2017).

Effect: Disease

The lack of clean water has resulted in individuals turning to unsanitary water sources, causing disease to increase. The incidence of cholera, a disease causing severely watery diarrhea and dehydration, has increased through the crisis. Since April of 2017, cholera has killed 2300 individuals (Smith-Spark, 2018) and the numbers will rise unless sanitary water becomes accessible. The map shows the distribution of cholera throughout Yemen. In sparsely populated areas, cholera cases are lower, due to individuals being farther apart, preventing spread of the disease.

Effect: Agriculture Shortages

Food agriculture shortage will arise from lack of water for irrigation. Currently, 93% of water goes to agriculture irrigation, and 40% of the resources go to qat, the narcotic, irrigation. Qat covers 38% of Yemen’s irrigated areas (The World Bank, 2014), and as the industry grows it’s allocated more water, leaving less space and water for growth of food agriculture. Consequently, there will be food shortages. The image shows a malnourished Yemenis child. Malnutrition will become prevalent, as less food crop is cultivated, depriving the Yemenis of nutrients and energy they need.

Solution: Sustainable Agriculture

In order to support the growing agriculture industry, more sustainable watering techniques must be used.

Floor irrigation is popular but wasteful, and thus better policies must be enacted that enforce sustainable forms of irrigation. Drip irrigation delivers water directly to a plant’s root, reducing the amount of water that evaporates and limiting runoff (Green Education Foundation, 2017).

Enacting policies that limit the growth of Qat, at least until the ground water levels are able to recharge, would lift a massive strain on the water supply.

Further, Yemen could shift into drought tolerant crops in order to increase the amount of food that is harvestable at a lower level of water consumption.

Solution: Rainwater Harvesting

Yemen lacks the infrastructure to harvest precipitation causing them to rely on groundwater sources. Limited annual precipitation and future climate change make it imperative that Yemen invest in the necessary infrastructure now.

A rainwater harvesting system allows individuals to capture and store rain. The image depicts rainwater harvesting infrastructure: gutters through which rainfall can be caught and travel, a downpipe that leads from the gutter into a storage tank, and the storage tank itself (Al Saidi, Saleh, Al-Eryani, Alwadei, 2015). Unfiltered rain water can be used for irrigation, cleaning, and for washrooms. As 93% of Yemen’s potable water goes to irrigation, using rainwater for irrigation lifts a burden on the groundwater supply. If filtered correctly, rain water can be used for anything.

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Conclusion

Yemen is facing a serious water crisis due to climate change, war, and unsustainable farming practises. Water scarcity has consequences that extend into the wellbeing of individuals such as cholera outbreaks and agriculture shortages. Water levels can be managed through sustainable farming practises as well as rainwater harvesting. While present day Yemen is facing a severe water crisis, its future does not need to share the same grim reality, and this can be achieved through sustainable water usage.

Word Count: 1082

References

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