A history of water engineering and management in Yemen (Hehmeyer, 2018)

Ramon Scoble

HD Hehmeyer, I. 2018. A history of water engineering and management in Yemen. Material remains and textual foundations. Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-38701-0, 304 p., €110..

(URL: https://brill.com/view/title/39434?contents=toc-33799)

Ramon Scoble



To cite this Review: Scoble, R. 2020. Review of "A history of water engineering and management in Yemen”, Brill, 2018, by Ingrid Hehmeyer, Water Alternatives, http://www.water-alternatives.org/index.php/boh/item/165-yemen


The Arabia Felix or Happy Arabia of today is virtually inaccessible to scholar and sage alike. The student of this ancient land’s water systems and governance must for the time being interact with them virtually. How? Through the ongoing publishing of research done in earlier periods, like this volume. Much text about Yemen’s relationship with water at a specialist level is published in the spheres of engineering, sociology, anthropology, archaeology and history. Little written compares with this work for breadth, arrangement and ease of entry for the interested.

This book carefully provides an entry point for both the newly curious scholar and those seeking the wider understanding of context. It accomplishes this across disciplines with a representative range of Southern Arabia’s local water histories. The ambitious title of this volume does not deliver more than a single view of those histories. Compiled by a single author it cannot do so, and rather than including the definite article in the title and exhaustively attempting to catalogue, this book seductively describes a historical view that forms the basis for further discussion.

Based on the author’s own research across the country, the personal touch shines out in addressing some broad category questions while outlining the book in the first chapter. Then using eight selected case studies introduced with their locality and historical context, the author outlines the key water engineering solutions adopted across the ages and climatic regimes. These include: the flood flow systems damming and diverting water at the outlets of mountain valleys, rainwater harvesting catchments and their cisterns in the mountain catchments, and the unique excavated channels of the south-eastern coast.

The case locations in this volume have been visited, described and reported in many similar examples across the country. As noted, these human-made water control technologies can be found depending on local geology, morphology, society and history. Should Yemen be open again to search and research, each case study will provide a useful research baseline for the next generation of local and expatriate students. The clarity of description at the case study level excels by bringing in a broad but select list of references and complementary footnotes. These include the most relevant of the many publications available for each technical and water management aspect, and includes socio-cultural and historical references that may guide readers down exciting and synergetic rabbit trails of investigation.

The final case study asks provocative questions deserving of modern consideration as it considers a metaphysical bridge between engineering, resource management and the mercurial climate of the arid zone. Alone, this case study is worthy of reflection upon by modern environmental scientists, policy makers and pundits considering how to engage society’s non-scientists in the discussion regarding our climate future.

The major strength of this book is the deep reflection of the author on her field research in another world and the analysis and portrayal of them without being dry or mawkish. The analysis is enjoyably wide without claiming comprehensiveness, and will satisfy the curious reader with enough detail and direction to draw him/her in – perhaps even satisfying national observers (currently) abroad with a new view of home. The subtitle is compelling in reminding us that Yemen’s visible water history today is only meaningfully comprehensible through our glimpses of its pasts, some of them enduring through current practices. Many thanks to Hehmeyer for making this corpus of information so accessible. A larger volume with other contributors to the text may make a future edition more valuable as a resource.


Additional Info

  • Authors: Ingrid Hehmeyer
  • Year of publication: 2018
  • Publisher: Brill | Nijhoff
  • Reviewer: Ramon Scoble
  • Subject: Water management, Agricultural water use, Irrigation, Flood, Water and community, Water history
  • Type: Review
  • Language: English