Yemen: Fears of flood-affected farmers abandoning agriculture
"Agricultural infrastructure was severely damaged [in the floods] and many of our farmers are jobless now. We fear that this will lead to migration from agriculture to other sectors, which will create a serious problem," Omar Muhaiwer, director of the Agriculture and Irrigation Office in Hadhramaut Valley, told IRIN in Seyoun District.
Calling for a quick revival of this sector, Muhaiwer said: "When you go to Seyoun you will find many people who used to work in agriculture now working as porters." He added that because farm work is physically demanding, many young people are lured to other kinds of work.
On 24 and 25 October 2008, rain fell on two million hectares of land for about 30 hours continuously, amounting to a total rainfall of some two billion cubic metres of water, said Muhaiwer. "The amount of water was twice the capacity of the waterways in the valley, causing flooding that destroyed the agricultural land and washed away the soil and crops," he said.
The floods killed 47 people and displaced 25,000 others, according to the government.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation estimated the total damage to agriculture in the main valley area at more than 72 billion Yemeni Riyals (about US$360 million).
Muhaiwer said that 70 percent of the residents in the valley - about 600-700,000 people -work in agriculture or are connected to it in some way.
A reconstruction fund was established shortly after the disaster and its executive director was appointed at the end of February. The fund will be used to build new houses and for compensation to affected people.
"Now that the fund is formed, we hope that quick measures will be taken to rehabilitate the [agriculture] sector. We provided [the fund team] all the required documents with the names of affected farmers and damaged water canals, pumps and wells," Muhaiwer said. "We are not asking now to compensate the losses in crops, animals or beehives. but if a farmer lost his pump, we want to help him to dig a well and replace the pump in order to be able to depend on himself for his living."
He said that the plan is to compensate farmers by giving them palm trees and young sheep, and not money, to keep them in this sector.
Muhaiwer also warned that the green cover that was lost in the floods might lead to desertification. "We lost 25 percent of the palm trees in the valley, 30 percent of Ziziphus trees, which bees breed on, and 70 percent of Mesquite trees." [See: http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=81853].
He said in summer, when temperatures rise and winds are stronger, less green cover would cause more sand to creep from the valley's waterways towards the cities, leading to desertification in some areas and affecting agricultural production as well.
In addition, less greenery may cause plant diseases and plant-harming pests. "Now we are witnessing a strange death of trees in Al-Hota area. Until now we don't know why. We have to tackle new phenomena very quickly," Muhaiwer said.
Losses and damage in Yemeni Riyals
Crops, livestock and bees - 21.03 billion
Wells, pumps, ground water irrigation networks, agriculture equipment and buildings -10.74 billion
Spate irrigation infrastructure and soil erosion - 40.56 billion
Total 72.33 billion (about US$360 million)
Source: Agriculture and Irrigation Office in Hadhramaut Valley