Water supply and sanitation in Yemen

Water supply and sanitation in Yemen

Water supply and sanitation in Yemen is characterized by poor service quality and low levels of access, the latter being almost as low as in Sub-Saharan Africa for sanitation. Yemen is both the poorest country and the most water-scarce country in the Arab world. In addition, the capacity of sector institutions to plan, build, operate and maintain infrastructure remains somewhat limited. The combination of these factors renders it difficult to significantly improve access and service quality, despite recent reforms, capacity building efforts, as well as substantial financial support and technical assistance from external donors.

Reforms undertaken by the government since 1997 include the decentralization of urban water supply and sanitation to local corporations; substantial tariff increases in order to achieve financial self-sufficiency; the nation-wide introduction of a community-driven, demand-responsive approach in rural water supply and sanitation; the passing of a new water law; and the creation of a Ministry of Water and Environment.


According to the 2004 Family and Health Survey, only 67% of the Yemeni population had access to improved water supply – including 23% from house connections and 44% from other improved sources such as standpipes. Only 43% had access to adequate sanitation, which is barely more than in Sub-Saharan Africa (37%). Access to improved water supply, using a broad definition of access, is somewhat higher in urban areas than in rural areas (71% vs. 65%). The urban-rural gap is, however, much higher for adequate sanitation (86% vs. 28%).

All these data have to be taken with a grain of salt, since there are no reliable data on access to water supply and sanitation in Yemen. For example, the data from the latest census, carried out in 1997, are very different from data in a Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) carried out in the same year. For example, according to the census, 61% or urban households had access to water connections in their home, while according to the DHS the same figure was 70%. For rural areas the order is reversed. The census gives higher figures for access to house connections (25%) than the DHS (19%).

According to a Family and Health Survey in 2004 access to water supply has actually decreased since 1997, standing at only 59% in urban areas and 10% in rural areas for house connections. [ [http://www.wssinfo.org/pdf/country/YEM_wat.pdf JMP Water] ] Concerning sanitation, there have been only moderate improvements in the same period. [ [http://www.wssinfo.org/pdf/country/YEM_san.pdf JMP Sanitation] ]

Service quality

Service quality for urban water supply, as measured by continuity of supply, is very poor in most Yemeni cities. For example, in Taiz, the frequency of the public piped water delivery is only once about every 40 days. More and more people have to rely on more costly water provided by private wells supplying water tankers. The quality of this water is questionable because these tankers have often been used for other purposes without appropriate cleaning.

Water resources

With renewable water resources of only 125 cubic meters per capita/year Yemen is one of the most water-scarce countries in the world. This level is less than one tenth of the threshold for water stress, which is defined at 1,700 cubic meters per capita/year. [ [http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc_tar/wg2/180.htm Falkenmark and Lindh 1976, quoted in UNEP/WMO] ]

Total water demand of 3,400 Million cubic meters (MCM)/year exceeds renewable resources of 2,500 MCM/year, thus leading to a steady decline in groundwater levels, varying between 1 m per year in the Tuban-Abyan area and 6-8 m per year in the Sana’a basin. [ [http://unstats.un.org/unsd/environment/envppt/wasess3a3asbahi.ppt#267,3,Annual Water level declining (m/Yr), Integrated Water Resources Management Program] ]

History and recent events

Until 2003 water policies in Yemen were defined by the Ministry of Energy and Water (MEW), while until 2000 urban water and sewer services were provided by a national public enterprise called the National Water and Sanitation Authority (NWSA). The General Authority for Rural Electricity and Water (GAREW) was responsible for promoting rural water supply and electrification.

In 1996 the government created the National Water Resources Agency (NWRA) in order to manage the country’s water resources.


In 1996, a sector policy strategic study recommended that the urban water and sanitation sector should be decentralized, corporatized and commercialized through the creation of local corporations that would take over service provision from the national utility NWSA. In addition, the private sector was to take a major role in service provision and an autonomous regulatory agency was to be created. This became national policy in 1997. [http://www.yobserver.com/environment/10013378.html Yemen Observer December 2007] ]

The first local corporation was created in the Sana'a region in February 2000. Six other local corporations were established in 2001, including for Taiz, Hodeida and Al-Mukalla. In 2007 95% of urban areas are served by 12 local corporations.

According to the newspaper Yemen Observer “the process of decentralization was not smooth; it faced strong resistance from the central organization. Sustainable political will and endorsement of the local administration law helped to overcome these obstacles.”

Concerning rural water supply and sanitation, in a Cabinet Decree (Decree #21 of November 22, 2000) the government ratified a Policy Statement, emphasizing the principles demand-responsiveness, decentralized community-based management and cost recovery.

New water law and creation of the Ministry of Water and Environment

In 2002 a new water law was passed, focusing on water resources management. The law did not cover water supply and sanitation infrastructure, but provided a framework to preserve water resources that are essential for the sustainability of water services.

In 2003 the Ministry of Water and Environment (MWE) was created, a sign of political commitment to tackle the challenges Yemen faces in the water sector. With the separation of water and electricity at the ministerial level, the General Authority for Rural Electricity and Water (GAREW) was also separated along sector lines and General Authority for Rural Water Supply Projects (GARWSP) was created.

National water conservation campaign

In 2008 NWRA launched a national water conservation campaign in partnership with the German development organisation GTZ and the United Nations Development Programme. The campaign's figurehead is a cartoon character in the shape of a raindrop. His name - "Rowyan" - means "I've had enough water" in Arabic. [ [http://www.pulitzercenter.org/openitem.cfm?id=1128 “Comic answer to Yemen water crisis”] - Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, 4 September 2008 ]

Responsibility for water supply and sanitation

Policy and regulation

The Ministry of Water and Environment (MWE) is in charge of formulating water policies in Yemen. In the field of water supply and sanitation it is supported by a Technical Secretariat (TS) for Water Sector Reform. The government envisages to create an autonomous regulatory agency for the water and sanitation sector.

Three water sector agencies currently report to the Ministry of Water and Environment (MWE): The National Water Resources Authority (NWRA) for water resources management, the National Water and Sewerage Authority (NWSA) for urban water supply, and the General Authority for Rural Water Supply Projects (GARWSP) for rural water supply. [ [http://www-wds.worldbank.org/external/default/WDSContentServer/WDSP/IB/2007/12/10/000076092_20071210163019/Original/RWSSP0AF0PID0Appraisal0stage0Dec.05.doc World Bank Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Additional Financing, 2008] ]

NWSA provides technical assistance, establishes sector standards, organizes and implements training programs and establishes data base for all local corporations until the establishment of a regulatory agency. In addition, it still provides water and sewer services in some urban areas.

The National Water Resources Authority’s ( [http://www.nwra-yemen.org/en/index.php NWRA] ) mission is to manage the nation’s water resources on a sustainable basis, to ensure satisfaction of basic water needs by all but especially by the poor, and to establish a system of water allocation that is fair, yet flexible for meeting varying needs of economically and demographically dynamic sectors. NWRA has branches in Sana’a, Taiz, Sa'dah, Aden, Hadramaut and Hodeida.

The General Authority for Rural Water Supply Projects (GARWSP) provides support to water user associations in rural areas.

Service provision

Urban areas

12 Local Water Supply and Sanitation Corporations (LCs) as well as local branches of NWSA provide services in urban areas. Local corporations provide services in the largest cities of the country – Sanaá , Aden, Taiz, Al-Hodeidah and Al-Mukalla – as well as in a number of towns.

Rural areas

Services in rural areas are provided by thousands of community-based water committees. According to a 2000 World Bank report, at that time communities were insufficiently involved in water system design and government and donor-supported schemes usually fell short of developing effective community construction and management mechanisms. Water committees were imposed local institutions, often suffering from internal management conflicts, leading to negligence of operation and maintenance which resulted in frequent break-downs. More than 50 percent of systems were broken down. Systems were often over-designed, and users can not afford paying the full cost of operating the schemes, let alone producing an operating surplus for the purchase of spare parts and major repairs. In addition, political and tribal leaders frequently demanded that the government allocates its resources to particular projects, thereby interrupting - even abandoning - the work of started schemes. According to a 1996 Review, there were several hundreds of incomplete projects at that time. Little was done in the area of hygiene education, safe drinking water storage, and wastewater and excreta disposal.

Most of the projects require some 'contribution' of the beneficiaries, for example, an up-front down-payment towards investment costs (varying between 5 percent and 30 percent).

In 2007 the World Bank reported that “a Demand Responsive Approach (DRA) has been mainstreamed into all sub-sector interventions throughout the country and is used in all governorates.” Furthermore, a rural water strategy has been finalized, agreed upon by all stakeholders and awaited cabinet approval in early 2008. [http://www-wds.worldbank.org/external/default/WDSContentServer/WDSP/IB/2007/12/10/000076092_20071210163019/Original/RWSSP0AF0PID0Appraisal0stage0Dec.05.doc World Bank Rural Water and Sanitation Project 2005] ]


In 2001 in urban water systems non-revenue water was estimated to be around 50 percent and the number of staff per 1,000 connections was typically over 10. [http://www-wds.worldbank.org/external/default/WDSContentServer/WDSP/IB/2002/08/02/000094946_0207220918199/Rendered/INDEX/multi0page.txt World Bank Urban Water Supply and Sanitation Project 2002] ] Both figures suggest that services are not provided very efficiently, since well-run utilities typically have non-revenue water and staffing levels that are less than half as high.

Financial aspects

It appears that there are only limited data on the level of cost recovery and on total investments in the water sector in Yemen. What little data is available suggests that cost recovery remains low despite a political commitment to increase it and despite tariff increases; and that a significant share of investments is still financed by donors.

Urban areas

The government has shown a willingness to raise tariffs, havingdone so in 1995, 1998,1999 and 2001. Further increases have been undertaken subsequently by local corporations. From 1995-2001 the monthly bill increased over 350% for a domestic customer consuming 15m3/month, and the industrial tariff increased over 150 percent per m3. However, many customers do not pay their water bills, so that cost recovery remains a challenge despite increased tariffs.

Rural areas

In 2000 the majority of rural water systems used some form of cost-recovery, either based on metered water use, or a flat rate.

External cooperation

The main donors for the water and sanitation sector are the World Bank, the German Development Bank KfW and the German technical cooperation agency GTZ. All donor activities are coordinated under a Sector-Wide Approach (SWAp).

World Bank

An Urban Water Supply and Sanitation Program Project supported by a US$ 150m World Bank credit, approved in August 2002, aims at efficient and sustainable water and sanitation services in major urban areas. There project has three components. The first rehabilitates and expands the water supply and sanitation infrastructure. The second component supports institutional restructuring and improving managerial capacities of local corporations; and to put in place an appropriate structure for a regulatory body for the urban water and sanitation sector in Yemen.

A Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Project – with US$ 20m approved in December 2000 and additional financing of US$ 20m approved in January 2008 - aims to expand sustainable rural water supply and sanitation service coverage to mostly poor rural dwellers in ten governorates. The project has three components. The first, the water supply component, provides a minimum service level including the construction and rehabilitation of RWSS systems consisting of a range of technologies, i.e., hand dug wells and hand pumps, spring protection and gravity supply, rain water catchments, piped schemes from boreholes equipped with either diesel or electrical pumps, and supplying communal stand posts. The second component, environmental sanitation, provides incentives to household to construct household systems, i.e., simple dry pit latrines, pour-flush latrines, flush toilets, and septic tanks. The third component includes equipment and running costs, as well as technical support, training, technical assistance, and sector studies. The project is well on its way to meeting its development objective. 140 water sub-projects serving a population of 320,000 are complete, while 23 sub-projects to serve a population of 82,000 are under construction. The objective of the additional financing is to expand sustainable rural water supply and sanitation coverage to an additional 270,000 people in rural areas in six governorates. In addition, three consecutive Social Fund for Development Projects financed partly by the World Bank allocated an estimated 15% for rural water supply and sanitation.


The GTZ supports the water and sanitation sector through a Euro 23m program for the Institutional Development of the Water Sector over the period 1994-2009. The program supports the decentralization reforms, strengthens local corporations, and establishes water basin committees and water resources management plans through training provided by NWSA and NWRA. [ [http://tc-wateryemen.org/documents/downloads/WaterYemenFactsheet.pdf GTZ:Yemen.Institutional Development of the Water Sector, 2005] ]

Selected sources

* Al-Asbahi, Qahtan Yehya: [http://unstats.un.org/unsd/ENVIRONMENT/envpdf/pap_wasess3a3yemen.pdf Water Resources Information in Yemen, 2007]
* Caton, Steven C.: [http://globetrotter.berkeley.edu/GreenGovernance/papers/Yemen%20Water%20Politics%20of%20Knowledge.pdf Anthropology, Harvard University: Yemen, Water and the Politics of Knowledge, 2007]


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