FEATURE-Rampant water "pillage" is sucking Yemen dry

Wed Mar 28, 2012 2:00pm GMT

By Joseph Logan

SANAA, March 28 (Reuters) - With a belch of acrid, greasy smoke and a jolt that shakes its moorings, the pump on Yemeni water farmer Jad al-Adhrani's plot of land roars to life, and the race to squeeze the last drop of water out of Yemen's parched earth resumes.

Gesturing across his dusty patch of ground in Hamal, on the outskirts of the capital Sanaa, he counts himself lucky to still be drawing water after having dug down only 500 metres, but knows that it cannot last.

"When it runs out," he says, "I'll dig again."

The water he sells for drinking and washing to residents of the affluent neighbouring Sanaa district of Hadda comes from an aquifer that thousands of wells studding the city and surrounding hills have sucked nearly dry.

They raise the prospect that the city, with its medieval centre of slender brick towers rising above narrow, angular lanes, may conclude two millennia of urban history by becoming the first capital in the world to use up all its water.

Such a fate, say the officials tasked with controlling water use, is due to a tangled politics of patronage that President Ali Abdullah Saleh perfected in 33 years of pitting his foes and enemies against one another.

Though Saleh has bowed to U.S. and Saudi pressure and surrendered his office after a year of protests that split the military and threatened to spiral into civil war, the power structures he nurtured live on, and show no signs of being dismantled.

"The state - let's put that in quotation marks, since there really isn't one - allowed and helped and took part in the uncontrolled digging of wells," says Abdelsalam Razzaz, minister of water in Yemen's transitional government, which will govern the country until elections are held in 2014.   Continued...

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