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A race for drilling water wells – YEMEN TIMES

In : 3/20/2010

A race for drilling water wells – YEMEN TIMES

Posted in: Reports
Written By: Mansour al-Montaser
Article Date: Mar 16, 2010 - 11:13:01 AM

The drilling race is reaching a crescendo. Farmers throughout the country have courted the owners of drilling rigs, as farmers have desperately searched for new access to groundwater springs for irrigation purposes. The futile search of the farmers mirrors the precarious situation Yemen is facing as a whole, as research continues to warn that underground wells are being depleted faster then they can be replenished, leading to imminent disaster in certain parts of the country.

In several areas of Sana’a governorate, people live in disparate situations due to the drop in water tables and the general depletion in community wells. In many situations, these drops can be directly correlated to the creation of multiple new wells within the areas, draining the reservoirs. Despite these figures, people within the surrounding villages have exhibited complete apathy about the water situation, not learning the vital lesson from water depletion of the traditional wells.

Like nomadic Bedouins: No urgency for stability

Mohsen al-Shaje, an inhabitant of al-Sharafa in Bani Hushaish, explained how the local area is already facing a water crisis. This crisis is due in large part, he feels, to the indiscriminant creation of new wells within the area.

Many efforts have been undertaken in the area to dig new wells, undertaken by locals, in the hope of accessing new sources of water. However, the majority of these wells failed, when the depth of drilling in some of the wells reached over 800 meters without striking water.

Al-Shaje pointed out that the scarcity of clean water has a direct negative effect on the socio-economic health of the people.

He stressed that citizens’ lives have become increasingly miserable as they have been forced to live like the nomads of old, moving from one area to another, looking for water for drinking, household usage and for the irrigation of their farms.

Unusable water at 850 meters

Mohammed al-Gharir agrees with al-Shaje that such quick fix solutions are tentative at best. Al-Gharir gave an example of the final well dug by citizens of the area. The well reached 480 meters and cost nearly YR 40 million. As they dug deeper, the cost of drilling just one meter rose to YR 16000.

In addition to the increased costs, there were also problems finding a pump capable of lifting water from this depth. The drilling companies approached pump suppliers with the desire to pump water from a depth of 850 meters. The quoted cost rose to twenty million, an outrageous cost for the poor citizens of the region. To make matters more difficult, the water found at such depths is not even suitable for washing, let along drinking, due to its color and odor.

Deserting the area

The people of the area are dependant on the use of tanks to receive water from other areas of the directorate, with costs reaching over YR 4000,000. These problems have led to the emigration of several families to other areas of the district, which has led to the loss of ancestral farms, families’ main source of income.

In turn, this emigration has led to the desertification of the agricultural lands that have been deserted by the people due to inaccessibility of water.

Zubairy called on the concerned authorities to find an appropriate solution that would provide water to the people of this region. He noted that the area enjoys excellent position for the construction of dams, which he considers the only hope in addressing the coming crisis.

One man’s meat, another man’s poison

Due to water shortage in al-Sharafa, the people have occasionally turned to the importation of water by trucks from other areas. These sales sparked the curiosity of individuals from other areas nearby al-Sharafa, leading them to exploit the situation by investing in the exploration of new wells and the monopolization of the newly privatized wells.

Sheikh Ahmed Muftah is one of these entrepreneurs. Sheikh Muftah explained how he had drilled a well in 2008 without the aid of partners in order for him to be able to guarantee the sale of water without objection or blame from other partners.

Muftah claims that he sells the water to the most desperate, at a low cost not exceeding YR 700 for agricultural purposes. Muftah refuses to charge for drinking water however. Once he has received an oath from the customer that the water is solely for drinking purposes, he provided water for free.

Upon enquiry regarding the amount of money made daily through the use of the well, one of his sons replied, “most of the time we earn over YR 3000 a day.”

Exploiting the opportunity of the rig advent

Local farmer Mohammed Ahmed said that he had drilled three wells last year, costing over YR 1.4 million. Although, he was quick to note, he did not necessarily need the water.

Presently, Ahmed has more then enough water for his families needs as well as for his agricultural demands. However, he justified his actions, claiming that he had seized the opportunity of having a rig in the area to dig as many wells as he could afford. He said, “The digger exists today and tomorrow, but who knows, it may not be able to come in the future.”

Ali Mohammed drilled a new well with his brothers to a depth of 450 meters at the end of 2009. The new well exceeded the depth of his adjacent well, which reached 180 meters. Mohammed justifying his digging to the depth of 450 meters as a pre-emptive step in the face of any future well water decrease.

Abdo Mohammed Hadi, the man responsible for operating a 275 meters deep artesian well for the past ten years, said that they have had to put in additional pipes every year in order to be able to continuously draw water from the well. They will have to add two 3-meter length pipes every year in order to reach the water depth.

Hadi attributing this to violations committed by citizens who dig wells up to depths of 350 meters, exceeding that of conventional wells by 80 meters.

Bombing instead of drilling

Due to the increase of deepening expenses, ranging between YR 11-16 thousand per meter, some have devised new techniques for deepening their wells in the chance that the water levels continue to decrease. People have turned to the use of bombs as an alternative to digging.

Ahmed Hussein is one of these who have devised the explosive technique. He explained that this process would substitute for a driller in case of continued depletion in water tables. However, the explosive method requires expertise and careful attention to avoid damage, he said.

In cases where the explosive is not placed at the correct depth or among the appropriate bedrock, the procedure could result in increased sedimentation in the wells, or even cracks in the well’s walls, leading to significantly reduced water capacity then before the operation.

The process begins with the placement of the explosives in well-sealed containers in order to prevent water leakage into the explosives themselves. A wire the length of the well is then connected to the explosives, as the ordinance is lowered cautiously to the required location within the well. The two polls are then connected, triggering an explosion.

However, there are many disadvantages resulting from such procedures. Heaps of earth becomes sediment, due to repeated explosions, depriving the wells of a good part of their depth and capacity. Alternately, the water drawn from these wells lose its freshness as a result of being loaded with the waste from the explosives, impurities and dust, making it unfit for drinking.

Digging 19 wells in the final quarter of 2009 in on one area.

Abdulkareem Mohammed, from Eyal, Malik area, mentioned the construction of 19 new wells by the end of 2009, in addition to other previously dug wells. These wells were predominately in violation of legal requirements. Mohammed stressed that the drilling of these wells have been at random and had been undertaken by the citizens themselves.

The construction projects did not take into account the legal distance that must separate wells. Five wells had been drilled in one location as a result of competition among the citizens. A paltry distance of only 10 meters separated each of these wells from each other.

In large measure, the cultivation of the Qat plant is the impetus behind the majority of the new wells. Farmers are exploiting new areas that require vast amounts of water, as the plant requires continuous irrigation.

The exploitation of the Qat tree continuously throughout the year necessitates a constant supply of water, which forces farmers to dig additional wells to support their cash crops

Fines preferred over licenses

A rig owner, identified as J.S., claimed that the majority of the wells that had been drilled in the area were not licensed. He said that they were drilled under the knowledge of the concerned authorities. However, they pay an YR 200 thousand fine for each excavated well, or an YR 100 thousand fine in cases where any wells were drilled deeper than before.

Many consider the payment of fines a better procedure than obtaining a license. Unlike obtaining a license, the payment of fines is quick, does not require contracting relevant authorities, does not take time to be approved and does not require any preconditions or expensive guarantees.

Licenses require a waiting period of three days, as well as a deposit of YR 500 million as collateral to protect against legal violation to the drilling. In addition, a General Water Recourse engineer must monitor the dig. The guarantee amount is confiscated as a disciplinary measure in case of any violation.

As many farmers cannot afford or be bothered to go through such hoops, the payment of a fine is often a preferable option

The Sheikhs extortion

In the absence of their commitment to legal drilling procedures, drilling engineer J.S. admitted that the rigs’ owners are sometimes subjected to extortion after obtaining drilling permits from the authorities. Other times, they face extortion by local sheikhs, having their worked stopped unless the companies respond to the sheikhs.

He pointed out that the companies are often being exposed to the threats of work prevention by influential sheiks in their areas, forcing them to bargain on each well. The additional drilling costs can range from YR 100,000 – 500,000 for the provision of  protection for workers and equipment.

Engineer Abdullah Mohammed al-Thari, the Water Resources Authority’s Deputy Minister, spoke about the Ministry’s role in the preservation of water resources. The unauthorized  random drilling in the basin area, he said, has led to the application of law number 23/2002, which stipulates that there should be no drilling without the Authority’s approval.

Al-Thari pointed out that they will implement the law to preserve the water basin, adding that the random drilling is a preemptive attempt by the people to obtain as a large amount of water as possible prior to the future measures of preventing further drilling. He attributed this action to lack of awareness of  the people and the public decision makers to the magnitude of the crisis that is facing Sana’a water basin.

The Deputy Minister blames local councils for the current increase in unlicensed drilling, as the Water Recourses Authority has empowered local councils with the control and prevention of any illegal drilling.

However, al-Thari says that the absence of awareness within these councils causes them to not deal seriously with the issues of irregularities. The councils have thus far been content to impose fines on unauthorized excavations, without attaching additional punitive measures to cease the illegal drilling. These shortcuts have encouraged the rigs’ owners to continue the process of drilling without notifying the license authorities.

The Solution

The optimal solution for stopping ground water exploration in the water basin of the directorates will be the result of firm measures. Through the imposition of fines upon offenders and their referral to prosecution, in addition to well and rig confiscation and the application of a comprehensive drilling ban, the concept of the seriousness of these issues will begin to distil upon the minds of the citizens.

Drilling for water illegally not only threatens national security, but life in general in Yemen.