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Yemen: Failing to harvest the rain

SANAA, 10 August 2010 (IRIN) – Despite record rainfall in the Yemeni capital Sanaa and other areas this summer, very little is being done to harvest this water to mitigate water shortages, experts say.

In May at least seven people were killed in what officials described as the worst flooding to hit Sanaa in a decade. Flooding has brought large parts of the city to a standstill on a number of occasions.

Attempts by the government to harvest rainwater are very limited, according to Ramon Scoble, a consultant for Germany’s Technical Cooperation Committee (GTZ).

Sanaa is predicted to be the first capital in the world to run out of economically viable water supplies by 2017. Experts say this is due to a rapid increase in Sanaa’s population in recent years because of rural-urban migration, and the widespread planting; and inefficient irrigation of `qat’, a water-thirsty plant believed to consume 40 percent of all irrigated water.

Local authorities say this increased demand for water is causing Sanaa’s water table to fall 4-6m a year.

According to Salem bin Shueb, head of the Water Resources Department in Sanaa Municipality, a study carried out with the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation concluded that dams needed to be built to harvest rainwater to prevent water shortages.

“The government is doing very little,” he said. “Very little funding is dedicated to rainwater harvesting for water supply and groundwater recharge. There are a number of ineffective dams in Yemen and none are supplying significant water to cities, agriculture or groundwater recharge.”

Roadmap to nowhere

In an attempt to feed the Sanaa water basin, which is shrinking by 5 percent a year, and provide drinking water to the city, a 2008 plan entitled A Road Map to Harvesting Rainwater in Yemen was designed to ensure that 70 percent of city rainwater was harvested by 2012, and 100 percent by 2020.

The plan envisaged harvesting through the building of water barriers, small dams, concrete tanks in valleys, and water harvesting systems in or on houses.

Shueb explained that the government is encouraging people in areas with higher rainfall, such as Sanaa and Taiz, a city 256km south of Sanaa, to erect water collection devices on the roofs of their houses, schools and government buildings to harvest rainwater.

Recently a committee issued a decree that rainwater roof harvesting should be compulsory, said Shueb, adding: “These plans are moving ahead slowly because of the limited technical capacity, expertise and poor information.”

Shueb said water shortages had been exacerbated by the widespread use of private wells and water pumps for domestic and agricultural use.

Source – IRIN News

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