Yemen is a country of many woes, drought being one of the worst. According to hydrologists, the capital Sana’a will run out of water by 2025. This would make it the first capital in the world to do so. The reason? An environmental crisis that dates back to the seventies, when oil-drilling technology was used to pump the soil dry.
Andrea Pascarelli is the ICRC’s water and habitat coordinator in Yemen. He explains how the lack of water is provoking additional tension and conflict, and what the ICRC is doing to get water to those who need it most.
What is the problem with water in Yemen?
Yemen faced a whole slew of security and socio-economic problems even before the current round of violence. Rapid depletion of the groundwater reserves has made things worse. Yemenis are pumping water out of the ground faster than nature can replace. In effect, they’re “mining” the groundwater supply past its sustainable limits.
There has been very little rain so far this year. We expect water shortages to be particularly severe in the highlands. Yemen is acutely vulnerable to fluctuations in global food prices, and if the price of food were to rise in Yemen, refugees and economically marginalized Yemenis would find it increasingly difficult to get by.
What are you doing to keep the water flowing for vulnerable people?
We’re repairing water and sanitation infrastructure that has been damaged by conflict, or is simply neglected. At the same time, we’re taking environmental considerations into account.
Our work also links in with health projects, and we’re optimizing the use of scarce water resources for crop irrigation and livestock production.
For example, in the village of Al Hesn in Bani Oweir (Sahar District, Saada Governorate, northern Yemen), the ICRC is repairing the entire water network, from water source to distribution points. This will benefit about 5,000 people.
In Al Harf, the main town in Harf Sufyan District of Amran Governorate, the ICRC has built a water tower with a capacity of 100 cubic metres. Now, we’re renovating the water supply system in the town, which will restore water to about 6,000 people.
And in Al Madahig, which lies in Al Shmaytain District of Taiz Governorate, the ICRC is working on giving some 6,000 people access to drinking water.
What challenges do you face in trying to overcome the lack of water in Yemen?
In recent years, limitations on access and the dangerous security situation have forced most humanitarian organizations to work through intermediaries in order to distribute aid and run projects. This leaves many conflict-affected communities without adequate assistance.
Tribalism remains a crucial factor in Yemen. The nature of tribal conflicts and the lack of law enforcement make it a particularly difficult country for outsiders to operate in.
Finally, the ICRC is working with vulnerable people, in a country where laws are often flouted, natural resources are limited or non-existent and ecosystems are fragile. This makes it even more difficult to respond appropriately.