Water remains a big challenge in the Middle-East. It’s scarcity, with a worrying decline in per capita water availability, has become one of the biggest dilemmas facing governments in the region. Most of the Arab World is mapped as a geographical area with water access below the 1,000 cubic metres per capita of annual water supply. And as unpredictable weather patterns become the norm, coupled with rapid population growth - at nearly twice the global average - that figure is projected to shrink to just 460 cubic metres by 2025. Particularly in Yemen, water poverty was a national crisis long before the start of the war, with annual projections suggesting Sana'a will run out of fresh water supplies, before the end of the decade. The capital has been under siege by draught, because Sana'a has the infrastructure to support just 80,000 people. But in recent decades, the population exploded to two million with a rate of increase at an incredible 8% a year. As a mountainous country with a low water table, Yemen is one of the region's most water stressed, and its per capita access to water is seven times below the average in Europe. In some villages water is pumped just once a month. With less water, it becomes impossible for poor farmers to earn a livelihood, pushing them to move to already densely populated urban centres. Therefore, lack of water is leading to a severe decline in food production, which in turn is leaving a significant percentage of the population on the verge of starvation. Thus, with an expected population growth from 300-to-500 million by 2025, per capita water availability will be cut by nearly a half in the Arabian Peninsula.
Overall, the unsustainable and wasteful consumption of water by households means more than half the water allocated for agricultural use does not reach crops as intended. And in the absence of rainwater harvesting schemes, valuable commodities as receding annual rainfall, are usually left to evaporate in the desert or on the roadside of towns, due to the lack of upgraded rainwater drainage systems. Two decades ago, Sana'a became part of an urban agricultural boom sweeping Yemen, where rising food and fuel prices were making city farming less and less outré. Once again, the inner-city gardens of the ancient metropolis where been utilised to grow vegetables - waging lots of different wars against climate change, foreign food imports, dependence on aid from the World Food Programme, and astronomical food prices. Turning small garden plots into working farms was not only helping reduce Sanaa's pollution, but was also generating revenue for down-and-out parts of town. In a city which has two million people depending on aid distributed by international food agencies, urban agriculture contributed massively to local economic development, poverty alleviation and social inclusion of the urban poor, especially women as they form 25% of the agricultural urbanite force, facilitating the productive reuse of urban waste.
Just west of the capital Sana'a the terrain grows rugged up the Haraz Mountains. Normally in the spring, the spectacular terraced hillsides will be lushly draped in deep shades of green, covered with fruit orchards, coffee bushes and the ubiquitous khat trees, who’s mildly stimulating leaves are chewed by Yemenis for hours on end. But nowadays, except for a few lightly irrigated patches, the view is mostly of charred remains of blackened areas, which show another farmer has given up for the season. Already one of the poorest countries, and among the least developed in the Arab World, Yemen is fighting a tough battle against drought, depleted water supplies, unequivocal poverty, uncontrolled population growth, and a ravaging civil war.
[Photo (2): Sanaa’s old town with view of the Al Khbir Mosque, Yemen | Photographer: Yann Arthus-Bertrand]