World’s Thirstiest Country Yemen May Be First To Run Out Of Water

Fetching waterPredictions of water loss in Yemen by 2020 threaten lives and agriculture  – Children must still fetch water for towns that are increasingly parched and dry.

According to experts cited by CNN, Yemen could be the first nation to completely run out of water in as little as 10 years, a prospect that creates a grim future for the young population of 24 million that is expected to double in 20 years.

In Yemen’s capital Sana’a, which could be the world’s first city to go dry, the population is growing at a rate of 7 percent per year as people are fleeing from the parched outer areas of the country to Sana’a. Despite a 1,185 mile shoreline, as the poorest nation in the Middle East, experts predict Yemen is on target to literally run out of water.

Part of the problem is the addiction to qat, a mild narcotic plant chewed by about 75 percent of men in Yemen that takes a lot of water to grow. At least twice a day farmers pump thousands of litres of water from hand-dug reservoirs that are used to irrigate the crops. In places of vineyards farmers are growing qat, which uses five times the amount of water as grapes but can be harvested and sold relatively quickly after it’s planted; it provides a steady supply to feed the country’s growing demand. “Growing qat makes [the farmers] more money, but growing it also uses up much more water,” – Mohammed, farmer. Because qat can be harvested many times per season, whereas grapes only once, its profits make it too hard for farmers to resist.

However, this urgency to increase yields is more than understandable in Yemen where 5 million people – over a fifth of the population – go hungry each day. And although qat farmers use an estimated 40 percent of the nation’s water supply, they are not the sole cause to the looming water crisis. No one understands the dire situation better than Yemen’s Water and Environment Minister, Abdulrahman Al-Eryani. He says 91 percent of the country’s water resources are used for agriculture.

Yemen’s water table is falling at about 6.6 feet per year, yet the main government has been ineffective at managing the drilling of water wells or regulating water management in other parts of the country. Politics also play a role as government subsidies are distributed. Public purchases of qat and constructing a better legal system to deal with the scarce resource are imperative goals the country needs to achieve.

Critics of the government say if short term measures are not put into place more dramatic steps will be required such as “stopping rural populations from moving to overcrowded cities.” Even more drastically, “relocating population centres from the centre of the country to the coasts,” – Boucek. As Sana’a gets more and more migrants, relocating the capital to the coast might be better for taking advantage of desalination as other Middle Eastern countries have.

When asked what the water loss meant for his country, Mohammed sighed. “The farmers here, we have no future – we have to rely on God,” he said. “We only have God’s mercy to rely on.”

The world’s thirstiest country may have to start praying for a miracle.

Image:: flickr

More:
Yemen’s Economic and Environmental Problems Blamed on Chewing Gat
Green Prophet Flies To “The Yemenite Blog For Sciences And The Environment”
Mud Structures in the Muslim World: Spectacular And Sustainable

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