Experiences with local water governance and outcomes for vulnerable communities in the Tihama Region of Yemen

Leslie Morris-Iveson
Environmental Recovery Consultants (ERC) Ltd., Oxford, UK; leslie@environmentalrecoveryconsult.com

Ahmed Alderwish
University of Sana’a, Sana’a, Yemen; prof.alderwish@wec.edu.ye

ABSTRACT: In communities that contend with low levels of human development in meeting basic needs, risks relating to groundwater overabstraction can enhance preexisting vulnerabilities. In Yemen, where per capita freshwater availability is amongst the lowest in the world, the most severe outcomes of water scarcity are felt at the local level, by the most marginalised. In addition to an analysis of available knowledge on norms and practices for community water management and the informal and formal networks that operate in rural Yemen, qualitative-based original research was undertaken in Hajjah and Al-Hodeidah governorates. The main objective of this research was to understand how improvements on management practices could lead to better outcomes for the poor.The research demonstrates that community members in areas that are typified by water insecurity have a high degree of awareness of the different factors, both hydrological and political, that lead to groundwater depletion. Community members have a collective interest to build on existing practices that respond to risks in order to safeguard resources – particularly in addressing the stemming of water overabstraction through deep well drilling to develop cash crops. The research also highlights the difficulties communities face in overcoming power structures which inhibit their efforts in implementing water-related decision- making.The paper argues that for improved water management practices to take place, the political nature of water management at the local level must be considered with a realistic identification of the stakeholders involved. Strengthening a formalised local government structure may have limited effectiveness if it is done without recognising the traditional and informal forms of leadership, and the existing patterns of power which drive local water governance. The paper concludes that there is an interest/demand for developing or further promoting allocation principles to promote equity amongst communities.

KEYWORDS: IWRM, water security, water scarcity, local water governance, groundwater management, Yemen