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Water Management in Yemen

Bayt Baws dam
Photo 1: Sanaa, seen from above the Bayt Baws dam, Yemen. (Source: Kate Dixon, Flickr)

Key governmental and non-governmental organizations

The Ministry of Water and Environment was established in May 2003 to reorganize the water sector, with the aim of creating an institutional structure for integrated water resources management and to prepare the necessary institutional and investment conditions to face the worsening water situation. The ministry was charged with one of the most complex development problems in Yemen, namely the water scarcity problem and the challenges of providing drinking water to the urban and rural population, treating wastewater, overseeing water resources management and planning its use in light of the Water Law. The Water Law provides a legal basis for controlling groundwater abstractions. It includes measures like licensing and registration requirements for wells and rigs and stricter control regimes in water-stressed catchments.

Local councils are also relatively new organizations, their establishment having been facilitated by the issuance of the Local Authority Law in 2000. Local councils exist at governorate and district levels. They are tasked at the basin level with supervising and enforcing rules and regulations around water resources management.[1]

Developing an integrated water resources management plan is one of the main policy goals for the agricultural sector going forward and aims to decentralize decision-making and transfer operating and maintenance costs to water users and the private sector. Since the late 1990s, the government has transferred some responsibility for agricultural water resources management to non-governmental organizations such as water user associations that manage ground and surface water in some regions.[2]

Laws and regulations that are in use or under preparation

In order to mitigate the national water crisis, the government adopted Water Law No. 33 in 2002, which was amended by Water Law No. 41 in 2006. As noted in the previous section, the Ministry of Water and Environment was also established in 2003 to reorganize the water sector. The National Water Resources Authority (NWRA), which falls under the Ministry of Water and Environment, is developing the institutional capacity for sustainable use of water resources. In addition, the government formulated the National Water Sector Strategy and Investment Plan (NWSSIP), which was supported by donors. These donors, including Japan, have expressed their strong intention to support its implementation.[3]

Based on the Water Law, the NWRA was delegated to formulate a water resources management plan, to execute integrated water resources management and to establish a Basins Commission in the critical water basins in Yemen. In 2003, the NWRA Sanaa Branch (NWRA-SB) was legally empowered to implement activities related to water resources management for the Sanaa basin. The Sanaa Basin Commission (SBC), which is now under the chairmanship of the minister of water and environment, was established in 2003 with the NWRA-SB technical secretariat to execute management of water resources in the Sanaa basin.[4]

Role of the private sector in water management

Private sector development has faced several major and interrelated challenges. These include bureaucratic obstructions, weak infrastructure, a largely unskilled workforce, a poor investment climate and lack of financing, an economy overly dependent on oil, corruption, a weak state and a rent-seeking elite class with vested interests in stifling reforms. Now, after almost four years of civil war and regional military intervention, Yemen’s economy has been devastated and the private sector with it. As a result of pre-existing challenges exacerbated by the conflict, there is a considerable gap in the urban water supply sector. This gap is being filled largely by private tanker trucks, on which urban Yemenis are increasingly dependent. While the tanker truck system plays a critical role in filling this gap in the formal water supply system, it raises serious questions with respect to affordability, health, environment and water resources management.[5] The use of solar systems is expanding due to the general collapse of the electricity supply. Solar systems are considered an alternative power source, e.g. for pumping groundwater, and the import and supply of these systems is considered the role of the private sector.[6]

[1] Huntjens P et al., 2012. The Political Economy of Water Management in Yemen: Conflict Analysis and Recommendations. The Hague Institute for Global Justice.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ministry of Water and Environment, 2010. Baseline Survey for Future Impact Evaluation. Sanaa Basin Water Management Project. MWE: 107.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Alfonso Rivera, Lucila Candela, 2018. Progress towards sustainable groundwater management. Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies, December 201, Pages 1-158
[6] Ahmed A et al., 2018. Feasibility study of solar photovoltaic power plant for Sanaa wastewater treatment plant. Journal of Environment and Sustainable Development Studies 2(5): 1-19.