By Abdurrahman Shamlan
“You never miss the water until the well goes dry” goes a well-known English proverb.
On Monday, the Yemeni Ministry of Water and Environment – in association with the Responsive Project, which funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) – held the Fifth Regional Water Forum for Sana’a, Amran, Sa’ada, Marib and Al-Jawf governorates at the Movenpick Hotel in Sana’a.
The forum, which was the fifth and last before the upcoming National Water Forum which is scheduled for September, was entitled “Water is Life” to reflect the crucial role of water in sustaining human beings, animals and food crops.
Civil society organization representatives, researchers, academics, officials, and tribal chiefs from the above-mentioned governorates took part in the event, which was also attended by Yemen’s Minister of Water and USAID’s Technical Director in Yemen.
At the forum, participants discussed their views and visions and expressed concerns over the critical issue of water scarcity which threatens the existence of coming generations. They expressed further concern over the continued absence of effective laws covering the digging of wells, which lead to the depletion of underground water sources.
According to a female participant form Marib, Yemen’s water problem is no longer about irrigation, and has instead become about people not finding, or struggling to obtain, drinking water. She added that women in her rural hometown are forced to travel long distances to fetch water for their households.
She demanded that response priority be given areas most affected by water shortage.
Another participant suggested that awareness campaigns should be launched across Yemen, to spread awareness among citizens about the catastrophic effects of overusing water, before stressing that action is not the sole responsibility of the government, but rather of everyone.
Dr. Abdusalam Ahmed, among the participants from Sa’ada, complained that women in his village must wake before the break of the dawn in order to obtain water from wells, and added that if they arrive late at the well, they will come back without water.
After listening to participants’ views, complaints and suggestions, U.S. official Charles Swagman and Water Minister Abdo Razaz Saleh delivered their closing remarks.
Saleh underlined the importance of such forums and criticized the former regime for not paying enough attention to – and not coming up with effective solutions for – the water shortage crisis.
“The water crisis is the most critical issue facing Yemen at the present time,” he said, before adding that if the issue is not properly tackled and if effective approaches aren’t put in place, water scarcity will, at a certain point in the future, likely compel Yemenis to immigrate en masse with no-one to welcome or receive them.
Replying to questions raised by residents of Sa’ada as to why their province has been very much neglected by the government compared with other governorates, the minister responded that a lack of security and stability is to blame, and stated that the government had put aside huge sums of money in order to take care of stricken governorates such as Sa’ada and Abyan.
For his part, Charles Swagman underlined the importance of tackling water crises across the world, and most particularly in Yemen, which stands to be among of the first counties – and, according to some experts, the first – expected to completely run out of water.
The U.S. official praised the current national unity government, saying that it had placed the water-scarcity issue at the top of its priorities since its formation in December of 2011. He stressed, however, that much needs to be done in order for water to be secured for Yemen’s future generations.