The water they normally rely on - rainwater harvested in catchment tanks or ponds during the rainy (summer) season - has run dry.
"Rainfall. ceased in early August 2009, and since then, rural residents have been using water supplies stored in their catchment tanks. Also, dozens of artesian wells in those areas [in the three governorates mentioned above] dried up between October and December 2009," Abdulalem Hashim, a local council member from Dhalea Governorate, said.
The three governorates have a rural population of over two million, he said.
Hundreds of women and children in Dhalea's Hasha District line up all night long to get water from meagre springs, he added.
"Yemen has scant water sources which are going to deplete within the next few years. As the majority of the rural population depends on trucked water or water they harvest from rainfall in catchment tanks and ponds, their suffering worsens in dry seasons," said Abdulqader Hanash, deputy minister for the water sector.
Abdullah al-Aidarus, a member of Beidha's local council, said in some cases they had dug up to 700 metres deep in areas around Beidha city but found no water. "The only possible solution is to bring trucked water from wells in Radaa District 100km away."
Rising water costs
Abdurrahman al-Mudhafari, who works as a daily labourer in Sanaa to provide for his seven-member family back in Dhi Najem District in Beidha, said the worst time for him was when he received a phone call from his wife asking to transfer money to buy water.
"I hardly make YR 30,000 [US$150] per month and nearly one third of this money goes to pay for trucked water in our village where a big [2,500-litre] truckload costs YR 8,000 [$40] now, compared to YR 6,000 [$30] two months ago," he said.
Mukhtar Thabit, a resident of Shamir District in Taiz Governorate, agreed. "These days, we drive for three hours to reach the nearest well in Barh area where we fill our four-wheel drive. Some 1,200 litres costs us YR 6,000-7,000 [$30-35]," he said.
According to Thabit, a pond dug by local residents to store water dried up within a month of the rainy season. "Only one percent of the district's population [of 55,000 people], have rainwater catchment tanks. On average, a six-member family lives on YR 1,000 ($5) a day, so many families can't afford a catchment tank, which costs up to YR 4 million [$20,000]," he said.
Mohammed Abdurrazzaq, head of the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Project at the World Bank Office in Yemen, said contractors had been assigned to identify vulnerable families that do not have catchment tanks. "Then, we will contribute money or construction materials to these families so they can have tanks for collecting rainwater from their home roofs," he said.
Abdurrazaq said projects in Dhalea and neighbouring areas would benefit tens of thousands of people.
Mohammed Hussein, a truck driver in Beidha, said that 'qat' cultivation was the culprit. "Artesian well owners prefer 'qat' farmers, who pay higher rates. Sometimes, we queue up at a Radaa well for four or five hours until they finish pumping water to a 'qat' farm."
He said 'qat' farmers were currently using much more water for their 'qat' trees to get them to grow quicker to take advantage of higher winter 'qat' prices.
According to Deputy Minister Hanash, the ministry's National Water Strategy (NWS) needs to be amended to ration water consumption for agricultural purposes, particularly 'qat' cultivation which, he said, consumes up to 40 percent of available water supplies.
If the local authorities took a tough line against 'qat' farmers and artesian well owners, the price of trucked water would go down, and vulnerable families could afford to buy two truckloads of water a month, he said.
According to the World Bank's Abdurrazaq, the average individual consumption of water in rural areas is 40 litres a day, compared to 120 litres in the rural areas of other countries in the region.
Hanash said his ministry was urging international donors to help plan and implement alternative water projects, manage available water resources and support the implementation of NWS.