Famine has returned to the Horn of Africa, leading many aid agencies to make dire pronouncements and journalists to be dispatched to the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. Yemen is amongst the many countries in the region ravaged by a severe shortage of water, as most of the country is well below 50% of normal rainfall amounts. While the situation is not yet comparable to that in Somalia, there are already signs of impending humanitarian disaster.
According to Nicole Glass in the Global Majority E-Journal, Yemen’s total renewable water amounts to 2.5 billion cubic meters per year, compared to an annual demand of 3.4 billion. This suggests that while the most recent drought is partly to blame, there are longer-term causes of the current crisis.
The water crisis in Yemen has been well publicized, and attempts have been made to address the issue, but little has been accomplished. Citizens on the street are very much aware of the growing issue, but as with much of Yemen’s issues, many are powerless to stop it.
A World Bank project is attempting to address the broader structural causes of the crisis. The project aims, among other things, to modernize the agricultural irrigation system – presently, many fields are simply flooded to water crops, as in a paddy field.
One of the major causes of the shortage is Qat, the mild stimulant used by around 80% of Yemeni men. According to Glass, the plant accounts for around half Yemen’s water consumption.
In a country where there is no mains system and most water is drawn out of wells by diesel-powered motors, the current fuel shortage is also proving to be catastrophic. In the capital Sana’a, long lines form at the public water pumps, as people clamor to get water for their daily lives. According to the World Food Program, the price of bread has increased by 50% since the beginning of February.
Even before the current political and economic crisis, around 43% of Yemeni households were food insecure, and half of the children in the country suffer from the effects of malnutrition. I have been told that in the Huggariya region, which lies south of Yemen’s third city, Taiz, many people have only two months worth of food left. In most villages, generous neighbors support the poor by leaving food out at night, doing so helps prevent shame being brought upon the family.
In the long run, there is hope. Several innovative projects have been proposed, making use of the ample rainwater that falls during the monsoon season. Reverting back to traditional methods of water storage, whereby rainwater is gathered in complex pools and storage systems would also help.
Yet, in the short term, there is an urgent need for food, on both sides of the Gulf of Aden. Russia recently promised a shipment of food to arrive in Aden; however this is a mere band-aid for a problem in desperate need of a turnicate.
Photo Credit: Martin Sojka