03 - January 18th thru January 24th
1999, Vol IX
"Qat farmers drain most
of the nation's underground water."
What is a precious resource any where in the world. It is especially
critical in the Arab World which is mostly desert land. As a result, water
management is one of the most important skills and sciences.
The Republic of Yemen, which is already threatened by water scarcities,
has been aware of this problem. Several of our cities are already plagued
with water shortages. In addition, uncontrolled extraction of underground
reservoirs has depleted this precious resource. This is clear from the
falling level of water table.
is why it has created several institutions to harness rain water, better
use of water in farm needs, and generally ensure a more efficient management
Mutahar Zeid Mutahar, 40, is a civilian engineer. He has been working
with the General Authority for Rural Development since 1988. He currently
heads the Irrigation Department at the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation.
Ismail Al-Ghabiry of Yemen Times talked to him about his duties
and water management in Yemen.
Q: What are the responsibilities of the Irrigation
A: It is responsible for numerous
1-Proposing and executing irrigation regulations, plans and
programs in accordance with the Ministry's general policy and water planning.
2-Drafting feasibility studies of irrigation projects in addition
to their detailed designs.
3-Encouraging land reclamation and protection against desertification
in coordination with concerned parties.
4-Setting proper irrigation methods by way of analyzing the
soil and water then determining quantity and quality of water needed by
each crop according to the area's climate.
5-Planning and designing irrigation networks and encouraging
the use of modern ones.
6-Participating in the preparation of water studies and working
out plans for the exploitation and administration of water resources in
addition to limiting its uses to cope with the demographic, agricultural
and industrial expansion in cooperation with the concerned parties.
7-Classifying agricultural lands and launching topographic surveys
and drawing various maps targeting best exploitation of those lands and
protecting them against desertification.
8-Working out plans and designs for suitable irrigation methods
and offering advice and guidance to citizens in various governorates in
9-Wording studies and research papers on the use of traditional
and modern irrigation methods and documenting them.
10-Supervising irrigation activities in all agricultural areas
and operating irrigation networks.
The irrigation sector is the biggest consumer of water resources in
the country, a main reason of which is poor awareness, causing depletion
of most water basins and increasing level of salt. That phenomenon could
lead to serious demographic changes that would negatively affect the economic
and social development of the population in the rural areas. The Department's
policy aim at achieving rational use of available water resources through
balancing demand with the available reservoirs.
Q: What are the projects carried out by the
A: The Department supervises the
drafting of studies, plans and programs and overlooks their implementation.
It further operates existing water installations such as the Abyan Delta
and others in Tihama. It is difficult to pinpoint all works launched by
the Irrigation Department but we can give examples for those done in 1998.
The Department launched studies and planning of 26 projects, 19 of which
for dams and barriers. It executed 66 projects in fields of topographic
surveys, including 46 for dams and water barriers. It also designed 165
projects, grouping 116 for dams or barriers and 38 for tanks and one for
As far as supervising projects under construction is concerned, which
is the most important part in our job and entails great efforts due to
absence of necessary requirements to cover technical aspects of that supervision.
We have three kinds of those projects overseen in the past few years. The
first is financed by the dams project, which is an investment program.
It includes 30 projects divided into 28 dams and water blocks and two tanks
at a total cost of 897 million rials.
The second model is totally financed by the agricultural production
encouragement fund and groups 28 projects also divided into 26 dams and
water blocks and two tanks with a total cost of 989 million rials.
The third type is jointly financed by the abovementioned fund and the
private sector. Those are simple projects in which the beneficient citizen
is the main factor behind their execution with the state's participation
through that fund. There are 43 projects here including 17 dams and water
barriers, 21 tanks, 5 irrigation canals with a total value of 443 million
rials out of which citizens pay 134 million and the rest covered by the
Q: The President had reiterated importance
of building dams, especially with the availability of loans for that purpose
and in view of Yemen's water shortage, what do you have to say here?
A: It is true that the political
leadeship, headed by the President, give utmost concern to the water policy
since it is a basic cornerstone in the country's economic development.
The President's speeches and statements gave importance to construction
of dams since they serve a large sector of the society, helps stability,
solves water shortage and refreshes the depleting underground water reservoirs.
Due to the high cost of building dams that could not be covered domestically,
the Ministry of Agriculture in coordination with the Ministry of Planning
share in covering the costs in accordance with available programs. Around
50% of the agricultural fund's assistance goes to irrigation projects.
Hence, it is clear that the concerned authorities pay much attention to
that issue within available capabilities and the country's general policy.
However, there should be a comprehensive water strategy that takes into
consideration the fact that level of water reservoirs in areas of demographic
and agricultural activity is starting to drop which heralds negative social
and economic damages. The state must endeavor to draw a national strategy
tackling water shortage and the best exploitation of available resources.
I wish to clarify here that in a number of governorates, which have large
agricultural areas and yield crops important to food security, there are
huge water projects such as water barriers that have been constructed a
long time ago. Those projects have shared in demographic stability and
they should be periodically maintained, but there is no budget allocated
for that purpose to ensure their continuation. To put things short, there
should be enough financing for the establishment of water projects in accordance
with plans and programs of a national strategy and for the preservation
of available projects.
Q: The government's five-year plan call for
a 7% growth rate in water resources, how can that be achieved?
A: Domestic demand on water has
notably risen as a result of the rapid population increase which almost
doubled since the sixties. We have an annual population increase of 3.7%,
which is one of the highest in the whole world. One of the most affected
areas here is water, especially for cultivation, since our water resources
are limited, our country is located in a dry zone and has no rivers. Hence,
water sources are limited and we have to make the best use of what we have
through preserving available water installations and constructing projects
that make use of rain water which is currently wasted in the sea. Maintaining
old irrigation systems along with elevating irrigation competency through
the use of modern techniques and networks should be made in addition to
avoiding the cultivation of crops that consume a lot of water and resort
to those which need only low quantities. New projects, such as dams and
canals should be established in accordance with a pre-planned study to
feed underground reservoirs and to benefit from them in irrigating land
plots instead of draining the underground water. Agriculture depending
on rain should be encouraged and a rational agricultural policy that takes
into consideration the water shortage in the country must be pursued in
a bid to reach food and water security at the same time. It is imperative
here to pass legislations severely restricting exploitation of underground
water reservoirs for irrigation. It is noteworthy that out of the 1,663,858
hectares of lands suitable for cultivation in Yemen, 1,154,958 hectares
are cultivated and provides work for 50% of manpower in the country.
Q: How can we overcome the problem of using
underground water for the irrigation of qat, vegetables and fruits?
A: As I have mentioned before we
can limit the drain of underground water through avoiding the cultivation
Q: Why do think is the reason for the decreasing
concern in planting trees?
A: This question should be answered
by other concerned parties, but I think that preserving and expanding the
country's flora is the responsibility of each and every Yemeni individual
whatever his post may be because it is a national duty. It is not the sole
concern of the Agriculture Ministry particularly when there is a vast cultivated
area that is difficult to follow up by one party. Cutting trees to use
its wood for fuel has notably diminished after the availability of gas,
but trees should still be planted especially in big cities in view of its
importance for environment and treated water can be used in irrigating
those trees and parks.
Q: What about the strategy of rationalizing
water usage in Yemen?
A: I would like to point out that
the Irrigation Department is not concerned with the drilling or deepening
of wells but rather it is responsible for the construction of water installations
to feed underground wells and for exploitation of dams as an alternate
option for wells. Yet there are many areas which do not have such alternatives
and citizens should understand seriousness of draining the underground
reservoir and should resort to modern irrigation methods. Our mission here
is to offer advice, technical assistance and financial support. We suffer
from poor technical and financial potentialities in addition to absence
of specialized cadres and the necessary data base to bring about a comprehensive
study. We do not have modern equipment that enable us to collect information
easily. However, despite all these shortcomings our technicians exert utmost
efforts making use of the available potentials.