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Yemen threatens to chew itself to death over thirst for narcotic qat plant

March 27, 2010
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Full Article at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/feb/26/yemen-qat-water-drought

The bitter and mildly narcotic leaf is key to Yemen‘s economy, and yet its enormous need for water is on course to make the capital, Sana’a, the first in the world to die of thirst. With the problem extending across the nation, the country is almost literally chewing itself to death.

From high on the scorched brown rock face that surrounds the Wadi Dahr valley, half an hour’s drive north-west of Sana’a, the fertile carpet of vegetation below looks miraculous. Like most of Yemen, these northern mountains are a dry and barren land. But the irrigation needed to grow qat, coupled with an exploding population, means Sana’a’s water basin is emptying out at a staggering rate: four times as much water is taken out of the basin as falls into it each year.

Most experts predict Sana’a, the fastest-growing capital in the world at 7% a year, will run out of economically viable water supplies by 2017. That is the same year the World Bank says Yemen will cease earning income from its oil, which currently accounts for three-quarters of the state’s revenues.

The cost of water in some suburbs of Sana’a has tripled in the last year, and armed conflicts over water resources around the city are increasing. Shortages in the summer months leave thousands of families with taps run dry, forcing them to spend a third of their meagre incomes on buying water from trucks.

According to Mahmoud Shidiwah, chair of the Yemeni government’s water and environment protection agency, 19 of the country’s 21 main water aquifers are no longer being replenished after a long drought and increasing demand. He says Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world, receives under 200 cubic metres a person a year, well below the international water poverty line of 1,000 cubic metres. The water basin in Taiz, one of Yemen’s largest cities, has already collapsed. Neighbouring Amran is close, as is Saada in the north.

Full Article at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/feb/26/yemen-qat-water-drought

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