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Diesel subsidies and Yemen politics: Post-2011 crises and their impact on groundwater use and agriculture

Adel Al-Weshali
Water and Environment Centre, Sana’a University, Sana’a, Yemen; drweshali@yahoo.com

Omar Bamaga
Center of Excellence in Desalination Technology, King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; obamaga@kau.edu.sa

Cecilia Borgia
MetaMeta Research, AJ ‘s Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands; cborgia@metameta.nl

Frank van Steenbergen
MetaMeta Research, AJ ‘s Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands; fvansteenbergen@metameta.nl

Nasser Al-Aulaqi >
Water and Environment Centre, Sana’a University, Sana’a, Yemen

Abdullah Babaqi
Water and Environment Centre, Sana’a University, Sana’a, Yemen; asbabaqi@y.net.ye

ABSTRACT: Groundwater is the main source of agricultural and municipal water and contributes 70% of total water use in Yemen. All aquifers are depleting at a very high rate owing to combined effects of a host of socioeconomic, institutional and climate-change factors. The government policy on diesel subsidy was largely believed to be one of the significant factors which stimulated large-scale pumping of water for irrigating water-intensive cash crops such as qat, fruits, and vegetables. A rapid field assessment was conducted between June and December 2011 in six different regions of the country to analyse the impacts of the severe diesel crisis that accompanied the political turmoil of 2011 on groundwater use and agriculture. The study highlighted winners and losers in the process of adapting to diesel shortage and high diesel prices. Farmers’ responses differed according to their social status, financial resources, and farming systems. Poorly endowed households partially or completely abandoned agriculture. Others abandoned farming of irrigated cereals and fodder, but practised deficit irrigation of fruits and vegetables, thus halving the consumption of diesel. Crop yields dropped by 40-60% in all surveyed regions. The intra-governorate transport halt due to the sharp increase in transport cost caused prices at the farm gate to drop. Only those farmers who could absorb increases in diesel prices due to high return:cost ratios, higher drought tolerance, stable prices (qat), and access to alternative sources of water could cope with the diesel crisis.

KEYWORDS: Groundwater, diesel subsidy, diesel crisis, irrigated agriculture, Yemen