Who should govern the Water? Policies or Politics

“Listen well, it is never in our interest to control and eliminate the illegal drilling because such actions can irritate our voters leading to lose any future election” Said a tribal Shaikh from Bani Hushaish, Yemeni Parliament Member.

Wherever you go with your eyes… here or there, to the north or south, east or west of the earth you will find the water issues are managed through a set of technical, social, economic, political…etc. tools. However, this does not mean that it is a same recipe of tools or solutions applicable for every country, region, area…etc. nor all countries adopt and apply all or some of these tools when managing their water resources and uses. What is quite sure is the adoption and application extent varies from country to country based on countries demand, consciousness, will, commitment and capabilities in applying the integrated concept when managing the water resources.

Water strategies and action plans are usually long term frameworks and actions that adopt and implement various water management tools and policies. Water policies are a sectorial tool to overall orient and manage the various water issues through the implemented water strategies and action plans. Given as an example, in the soccer game the decisions on team formulation, attack and defense tactics, player’s replacement…etc. are considered as the game strategy and or plans. On the other hand, rules that specify the playing ground area, game time, number of players, fouls and penalties kicks away of implementation…etc. are considered as the game policies. Similarly, the water strategies are long term strategic plans that determine goals, objectives, approaches, measures and interventions, main players, cross cutting issues, implementing issues…etc. that should be followed and implemented, while the water policies are simply a set of general rules and frameworks that orient, adjust, and determine the implementation of the water strategies and action plans. For instance, banning the importing or exporting of a specific crop that consumes high amount of water is considered as a water policy that can affect the water situation in a country while covering an irrigated area of one hundred thousand hectare with modern irrigation systems can be considered as strategic action that can be implemented during long period of time.

Politics is a state/regime measurements and actions that contribute to the establishment and implementation of both policies and strategies in all development and governing sectors including the water sector. Politics has significant and critical impacts on the on the water policies and strategies determining the effectiveness and efficiency of respective interventions implementation and the ultimate improvements in the water situation. On the other hand, the political systems and elites can also be affected by the way water issues are handled when implementing the adopted water policies and strategies. The effect level itself, however, depends mainly on to the extent the water users in particular and citizens in general are aware of their water interests, and able to move and put pressure on the political elites in order to manage the water resources efficiently, as well as the politicians consciousness about the importance the proper water management policies and strategies. Given as a live example, the German Green Political Party has succeeded to win more seats in the region parliamentarian election in some south and north regions like the Hessen Region in spite of being classified among the small political parties in Germany. Such success was due to the smartness of the party leadership in putting the environmental issues on the top of the party agenda giving the fact that people in those regions are highly aware and concerned of their environmental issues.

Without going that far, here in Yemen many contradictions between the water management policies and other governing politics existed representing a very interesting case full of vague and questionable decisions undertaken on many water. For instance, why did Yemeni Government and the former regime choose to excessively support the agriculture expansion during the last three decades although agriculture has insignificant contribution in the national GDP????!!!

Why did Yemen issue an official decree to ban the import of fruits and vegetables in the 1980s although it has critical adverse impacts on the groundwater in many water basins in Yemen????!!!!

Was it a sheer coincidence that the state politics hurried wildly establishing hundreds of casual dams out of which many were just awarded as gifts by the former president Ali Saleh to the tribes Shaikhs????!!! According to the National Water Strategy (NWSSIP), the total number of constructed dams reached 1000 dams in 2004. Excluding Marib Dam, the annual amount of water such numerous constructed dams could store does not exceed one third of the annual ground water abstracted from Sana’a Basin. Nevertheless, many soci, economic, and environmental adverse impacts have induced by such casualty of dams’ construction. Further, what is the rationality to go with dams’ construction option in a country that has an average of 200mm/year of rainfall and 2300mm/year of potential evaporation rate…!

Another inquiry, why did the government encourage Yemeni farmers to import drilling rigs and big pumps even without paying any type of customs or taxes for a long period of time???!!! Why has the government subsidized the diesel prices during that period as well???!!! Some may justify the taken politics mentioned above as to afford the country food security. However, as everybody knows that although all unpremeditated political measurements are applied, Yemen did not reach the delusive food security the former regime has publicized; nonetheless, we annually pump more than 40% of our finite and vulnerable groundwater to irrigate Qat crops which is neither considered a kind of food nor provides hard currencies that can be used to import food…!!! Others might justify it as to obtain development, stability and wealth for rural communities, and eliminate the increasing rates of internal migration from the countryside to the urban cities which maximizes the pressure on the public services such as water supply and sanitation, roads, schools, hospitals…etc. in the urban areas. However, statistics show that internal migration rates from rural to urban areas has increased annually till it reached up to 7% in the capital city of Sana’a which became amongst the top ten cities with highest population growth worldwide. On the other hand, rural economy that has relatively improved in some basins due to the agriculture leap induced during the 1980s was just a temporary delusive improvement. For instance, economic returns of agriculture attained by depleting huge amounts of fossil groundwater in many basins were spent either on building Luxurious houses or on travelling to some Arab countries for health treatment or tourism which ultimately didn’t provide any alternative economic activity that can secure a sustainable income for the rural communities once the groundwater is totally depleted. Is it right to assume that the politics and interests of the Yemeni politicians were and might still aiming to keep the majority of the Yemeni people busy with their farming business and away from the political game and ruling system? Who knows?

Another example, why Yemeni state still fails to control some hundreds of rigs that drill thousands of illegal wells annually???!!! Is it difficult for the respective security and local authorities to follow and control them everywhere? If so, why didn’t they hold the rigs when passing by the numerous security checkpoints exist elsewhere? Or why the drilling rigs were not hold even earlier when imported and entered through the national border ports where the state has a full controlling power and authority???!!! Are those hundreds of rigs owners more powerful than the Yemeni state??? If so, what kind of power do they have so that the government is disabled to control them???!!!

The simple and obvious factor is again the regime politics and interest that do not match with the water management policies as expressed by a Shaikh from Bani Hushaish, who was elected among the Moatammar Party elites in the national parliament in 2003. When I and another colleague from NWRA Sana’a Branch had admonished him for not cooperating in eliminating the illegal wells drilling in Bani Hushaish District, the Shaikh explicitly responded to us “Listen well, frankly it is never in our interest to control and eliminate the illegal drilling because such actions can infuriate our voters leading us to lose any further election in the future”. If so, it is clearly understood, why the symphony of the illegal wells drilling is still playing till this moment.

Now, if this is the opinion and intendancy of parliament members, it is not then surprising to conclude that all unjustified erroneous politics were not taken by the former regime for the purpose of rural communities’ development and national economy promotion as announced, yet it was just to satisfy the wide base of electors who live in the rural areas so they continue to support and elect the former regime elites in every election. On the other hand, as forth assumed it was also to keep the major base of voters away from the political game and country ruling system and process by keeping them busy with delusive unsustainable agricultural development and ensuring the political stability of the ruling regime; meanwhile, ignoring the critical and non-compensational costs and values such as the vanished groundwater resources that is still vulnerable for high depletion rates on the medium and long term periods. If it wasn’t the case, why the former regime didn’t follow and adopt right tools, policies and interventions for much more realistic and sustainable water management and national economy development???? Why was the former regime highly reluctant to support proper effective and efficient water management actions and interventions rather than the limited timely fictional measurements although the respective knowledge and experiences were available at that time?

Now, what are the results? Did the former succeeded to last as it had planned? Absolutely, no. Was the propaganda-based agricultural and economic development attained? It is never happened. Could the former politics of the state sustain our finite and vulnerable groundwater resources? Regrettably, they could not. The final question now on the today regime, government, political parties and elites, can they draw and learn some lessons of the past? Can they get rid of the personal and or political interest when managing the country different development issues including water? They should answer it yet not me or you dearest readers!

Last but not least, all of us as citizens of this lovely country before being politicians or voters, water users or managers have to consider and learn from the past, act with more comprehensive and integrated insights, and start adopting realistic proper and integrated water resources planning and management policies, tools, and interventions that ensure the public interest of Yemen at first and 25 million Yemenis soci and economic sustainable development at second.

,,,Allah bless and mercy Yemen and Yemenis

Best Regards

MSc. Abdulkhaleq Q. Alwan

IWRM Principle Advisor at MWE


Author name: Abdulkhaleq Alwan
Speciality and expertise: IWRM
Sector/Affiliation: Water Sector
Adress: Khawlan St, Sanaa – Yemen
E-mail: alwan10@gmail.com
Mobile: +967777148875
Type of contribution: Article

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