Water-wise,Yemenis most commonly identified with scarce resources and arid landscapes. Less known are its longstanding users-led water management systems. The ingenuity and efficiency of these systems was such that they the country could meet its food/ water needs for about 1000 years, despite its climate and geography. TheWaterChannel created a video series called ‘Building on Practice,’ documenting case studies in local water management from Yemen.
Frank van Steenbergen
Yemen, Building on Practice, Groundwater, Recharge, Water Scarcity
Local Groundwater Management
Water-wise,Yemenis most commonly identified with scarce resources and arid landscapes. Less known are its longstanding users-led water management systems. The ingenuity and efficiency of these systems was such that they the country could meet its food/ water needs for about 1000 years, despite its climate and geography.
Of late, there has been an increase in population and indiscriminate drilling of wells. Consequently, water security has decreased, and has had a knock-on effect on agriculture/ food security.
Amid the discouraging scenario, recent research has brought to fore some good practices built on ancient traditions of cooperative groundwater management. They have proven to be effective responses to local issues. Their success makes for a strong case for building them into formal policy processes.
TheWaterChannel created a video series called ‘Building on Practice,’ documenting case studies in local water management from Yemen. Please link to the video’s below to get inspired by how the Yemeni people locally manage their groundwater.
The solutions are located in Yemen. Yemen faces many challenges regarding water scarcity, much like other countries in arid regions. Proper groundwater management contributes to water and food security, especially in the rural areas, where water and food security is a major challenge.
In a substantial number of communities in Yemenlocal informal rules have been developed among water users to regulate the use of groundwater locally. Since 2000 two new trends have emerged. First is that where earlier local conflicts on groundwater were exceptional, they became more common. Second is either triggered by conflict or heightened awareness, in many areas farmers have come to local rules and regulations. Many communities have sought to prevent further harm to existing users, for instance by norms restricting well spacing and banning export of water from their area by tankers. In other cases farmers closed disputed wells, invested in groundwater recharge or connected separate wells by a shared network of pipelines, allowing water to travel from one area to the other. In some cases the agricultural wells were also doubled up as sources of domestic water supply and private village pipe networks were developed.
The solutions shown are existing right now and much can be learned of them. These solutions can be up-scaled in other contexts as well. Important is that the solutions are build by the water users themselves and very contextual dependent. The message is that in many areas farmers have responded to the risk of falling groundwater tables and in some cases to deteriorating quality that followed the intense exploitation of groundwater and that within one country different mixes of solutions to the same problem can emerge in the interaction between local water users, other stakeholders and national policies and legislation.
In many arid areas groundwater resources are threatened by unsustainable use of the resource (over exploitation, pollution, deterioration, etc.). Proper local groundwater management strategies are needed for sustainable use of this precious resource in arid areas. The main question here is: in groundwater management, who is accountable to whom?
Local ground water management is hence an essential building block of groundwater security. It is hard to see – given the local autonomy in Yemeni society and the sheer number of wells – how the groundwater development and use can be regulated – unless it is grounded in local management. Although in different arrangements, accountability between users seems essential in realizing sustainable local groundwater management systems. Sustainable groundwater management in arid areas is key for realizing local food security and economic growth.
There is a need to go beyond good principles, however, and to strengthen local groundwater management at scale. Several steps and adjustment would go a long way:
First is to promote local groundwater management on the basis of good practices – preferably from farmer to farmer and from community to community mode. This has been done before and consists of bringing different communities together, exchanging ideas and creating mild competition.
Second is to make sure the basic information is available for farmers to understand local hydrogeology and groundwater availability. In spite of the often substantial effort gone into the data collection analysis, the results are never shared with those most immediately concerned. The recommendation is to ‘harvest the low hanging fruit’ and communicate the information that is there in formats that create a better understanding.
Third is to strengthen linkages between water users and local, regional and national water resources departments.
Local groundwater users in arid areas. The solutions show essential elements in realizing the goal of sustainable local groundwater management.
Sustaionable groundwater management can only be realized when embedded in local arrangements for groundwater management.
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