Over the past three weeks in Sana’a, rain has fallen nearly every day. So much so that the primary drainage canal for the Old City (the Salia)—normally a roadway—has run with feet of water on multiple occasions.
See the Salia running with water in this FAS Youtube video.
It is an arid city, but not one without water, receiving some eight inches of rain per year. And yet despite this annual rainfall, some estimates predict that Sana’a will essentially run out of water within the next decade. Where does the water go once it has fallen? How much is expected to fall over the coming years? How much of the shallow groundwater aquifer is refilled when it rains? And how quickly is that aquifer being drained?
Most of these questions cannot be answered as Yemen’s water and environmental monitoring capacity is highly limited. In fact, for the Sana’a basin, there are only two sets of water monitoring tools (one for precipitation and one for groundwater wells) available to university and non-government researchers. Considering that some models show Sana’a running out of groundwater within a decade, this monitoring limitation is a critical barrier to the development and implementation of effective solutions and management strategies.
Enhanced monitoring is one of the key needs identified by researchers and stakeholders within Yemen.
In meetings over the past two weeks dozens of academics, ministers, and NGO environmentalists have identified key areas for research and debated the primary needs of both the Yemeni research community and Yemen’s environment.
As expressed by the scientists, future research should focus on environmental challenges related to water, energy, and agriculture (for more on Yemen’s environmental issues, see our blog on systems research). In order to develop meaningful solutions to these environmental challenges, specific needs must be met. These needs broadly fall into the following categories: improved resource monitoring and management, increased access to resources, and improved knowledge sharing and collaboration.
To undertake meaningful environmental research and address these critical challenges, capacity must be developed in the following areas:
- environmental monitoring, especially of water, ecological systems, and energy resources;
- accurate and comprehensive data of key environmental systems;
- models of environmental systems that include physical, social, economic, and cultural factors;
- water and energy management, including the development of markets and long-term monitoring capacity;
- access to additional water and energy supplies and infrastructure; and
- domestic and international funding and support for applied research.
In addition, the capacity of the research community itself must be strengthened. For example, this group of researchers has no formal mechanism for knowledge or resource sharing and has had little internal communication in the past. One researcher, in fact, thanked us for coming because before this conference he had never known there were people at universities working in renewable energy—our coming to his university was the first time he had the opportunity to know about and possibly collaborate with these colleagues.
This example demonstrates one of the many capacity limitations that confront the Yemeni environmental research community. In order to overcome these limitations, researchers have identified the following areas as priorities for community capacity building:
- improved access to physical, financial, and personnel resources (including but not limited to equipment and facilities, technology, research funding, international training and expertise, data, and international journals and publications);
- a strengthened voice in Yemen both within government and amongst the general population;
- better internal knowledge and information sharing;
- enhanced communication with the international research and technical communities; and
- a long term strategy for cooperation with international researchers, funders, and stakeholders.
As conversations over our two weeks of meetings constantly reiterated, as the International Science Partnership moves forward all research projects undertaken must not only address the critical environmental issues in Yemen, but must also develop the country’s capacity to engage in meaningful environmental research and address the concerns and needs of the Yemeni research community itself.