Power Cuts Heighten Water Problems

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Mohammed bin Sallam Published:23-01-2012

SANA’A, Jan. 22 — Locals in Sana’a have been complaining that the city’s regular power cuts are forcing them to buy water as the national water grid has become useless.

“The water network, which needs electricity to be pumped into homes, is now useless and so we buy water every week and the providers are taking advantage of our need to raise the prices,” said Nashwan Mohammed, who lives in Bainoon Street, Sana’a.

Defending their position, Al-Qabili, one of the owners of Sana’a’s water tankers explained they have been forced to increase prices as fuel rates have gone up. “But the prices have now settled so we have also been able to stabilize the price of the water tankers we sell,” he added.

According to locals, the prices are affected directly by political tensions. Abu Jamal who lives in Khawlan said that since the creation of the coalition government matters have gradually improved.

“We used to pay between YR 6,000 and YR 7,000 every week on water, now we pay half because the water network has started functioning every now and then and the prices have gone down somewhat,” he said.

Poorer families who cannot afford to pay to fill their water tanks send their children to fetch water in jerry cans from nearby mosques and neighbors.

Electricity, fuel and water shortages have most severely affected farmers in rural areas since at least 90 percent of Yemen’s underground water is used for agriculture. Farmers use diesel operated pumps to retrieve water from underground wells but electricity and fuel shortages mean they have been unable to do so.

Sana’a’s official water network has only 125 wells to provide the governorate’s water network, a third of which are 1,000 meters deep. But according to the Ministry of Agriculture, there are over 13,500 wells dug without permission in Sana’a governorate, all of which affect the underground water level.

Abdulsalam Razaz, Minister of Water, has warned that the ministry is on the verge of bankruptcy. “The ministry is owed over YR 33 billion by government bodies and people of power – if they don’t pay up we will resort to the courts,” he said earlier this month. Employee strikes, which caused chaos in the ministry and its branches, also added to its financial problems, he explained.

He added that Yemen also wastes a lot of water – something he described as “crazy” in a country threatened by drought. A lack of maintenance in the water grid accounts for some of the waste but the majority is caused by poor agricultural habits –especially among those farmers growing qat, said Razaz, who suggested importing qat from Kenya or Ethiopia to ease the water problem.

Anwar Al-Sahooly, a former water expert from the German development organization GIZ, said that in 20 years Sana’a will be a ghost town if water practices remain as they are. “Qat is the culprit and it will take the country to disaster,” he said.