Tuesday, September 11, 2012

When the Water Runs Out

Foreign Policy takes a look at the situation in Yemen, where technological changes, outdated government regulations, and a lack of clear property rights have contributed to a rapid depletion of the country's water resources:

In a 2010 report commissioned by the Yemeni government, analysts at U.S. consultancy McKinsey forecast that if water use in the Sanaa basin was not controlled, the area could completely run out of water by about 2020. [...]

"The main reason is the uncontrolled use of technology, drilling wells, installing water pumps and not having any control over the quantity being pumped out," he explains. "Yemeni farmers are, by their culture, rain fed farmers . . . . The new technology made people think there was a sea under the ground. Pump as much as you can and there will be no limit to the water." The situation is exacerbated by a lack of regulation and huge government fuel subsidies, which make producing water using pumps relatively cheap, Schoenewald says. If the subsidies weren't in place, people would not be able to turn as much of a profit from irrigating crops, which accounts for 90 percent of all water use in Yemen.

Steve Clowney


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