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Water Use in Yemen

Haraza mountain in Yemen
Photo1 : Terrace cultivation in Haraza mountain in Yemen. The photo also shows a water cistern, an ancient rainfall collection system for agricultural and household uses. (Source: Rod Waddington, Flickr)

Current water use per sector and analysis of the possible deficit

Table 1 shows the sectoral use of water from 1990 to 2010. It also shows that water used for agriculture and irrigation has increased in that time and is expected to increase further after 2010. Usage is also increasing for domestic, urban and rural purposes as well as industrial and mining purposes.

In 1990, total water use in Yemen was 2,799 MCM/yr. In 2010, it was 3,970 MCM/yr. Since availability is declining and the population is increasing, Yemen may soon run dry.[1]

Table 1: Water use over a period of 20 years (1990-2010) in different water use sectors.[2]

Water use1990200020052010*
Agriculture/irrigation2,6003,1453,235 3,328
Domestic/urban/rural 168210265552
Total (MCM/yr)2,7993,4003,565 3,970

It is clear then that there is large gap between the amount used and the renewable resources available. The deficit is covered by water from deep underground aquifers. The annual water share does not exceed 80 m3 per capita, which is below the water poverty line.

Agricultural water use and irrigation

The agricultural sector is the dominant water user (90%) whereas the domestic and industry sectors use 7-8% of the water resources Yemen’s cultivated area was estimated in 2003 to be about 1.2 million ha, of which 45% is dependent on rainfall and 55% is irrigated by groundwater or surface water from seasonal floods (spate irrigation). The area irrigated by improved systems (pipes, localized systems, sprinklers) is around 25,000 ha. This represents only 4% of the total area irrigated with groundwater using traditional/surface irrigation systems, whose efficiency is low at only 30-40%. Groundwater-irrigated agriculture increased from 37,000 ha in 1970 to 400,000 ha in 2010. This is the equivalent of a third of the national cropped area. Most of this is under high-value crops: fruit, vegetables and qat – a stimulant found in the leaves of the Catha edulis plant that are usually chewed – often mixed with timber and firewood trees.[3]

[1] FAO, 2018. Yemen Plan of Action 2018-2020.
[2] Ibid.
[3] FAO, 2012. World agriculture towards 2030/2050. The 2012 revision. ESA Working Paper No. 12-03.