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Water management, policies and legislation related to water use in agriculture


The Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation (MAI) is responsible for formulating policies on irrigation, crops, livestock and forestry production and for coordinating public investment and services in the agricultural sector. The General Directorate of Irrigation (GDI) is located within the Ministry and carries out all the duties related to irrigation, particularly the construction of dams and water harvesting and spate structures. Most field services are provided to farmers through decentralized Regional Agriculture and Irrigation Offices (RAIO) in the different governorates of the country. Several projects are working under the supervision of the MAI to provide different services, particularly the introduction of water saving techniques and the construction of water harvesting and spate structures. Other areas of action include wadi bank protection and the rehabilitation of abused terraces, as well as the rehabilitation and maintenance of existing irrigation structures. To support agricultural development at the regional level, three Regional Development Authorities (RDA) have been established in the northern governorates: (i) Tihama Development Authority (TDA), (ii) Sana’a, Sa’dah, Hajjah and Amran Rural Development Authority (SSHARDA) and (iii) Eastern Region Agricultural Development Authority (ERADA). Although RDAs have not been established in the southern governorates, agricultural production in wadis such as Wadi Hadramout, Wadi Tuban, Wadi Beihan has been supported by donor agencies through the Directorates of Agriculture in the respective governorates. In addition to the above authorities, the Agriculture Research and Extension Authority (AREA) is working under the umbrella of the Ministry. The Agricultural Cooperative Union (ACU) was established in August 1991 with 213 societies. Its main objective is to consolidate integration and coordination with the government effort in setting up several common projects, of which the most important ones are infrastructure projects such as water storage, regulation dams and weirs, and agricultural marketing. It also supplies agricultural inputs and means for livestock development. At present the ACU has four general societies with 400 primary societies and 20 branches in all the provinces of the country.

The Ministry of Water and Environment (MWE) was established in May 2003. It is responsible for water resource planning and monitoring, legislation and public awareness. MWE has many sub-sectors and authorities such as the National Water Resources Authority (NWRA), Environment Protection Authority (EPA), General Rural Water Authority (GRWA), Urban Water Supply and Sanitation Corporation, and Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Corporation.

The Ministry of Public Works and Urban Planning (MPWUP) is responsible for observing and monitoring the drinking water purification stations. The Ministry of Local Administration (MLA) is responsible for water supply and sanitation in rural areas.

Water management

According to the Constitution, surface water and groundwater resources are defined as ‘res communis’. However, a landowner has ‘precedence’ for water taken from a well on his land. In spring-irrigated areas water can be attached to land in the form of ‘turns’, which give rights to divert the canal into the field for a fixed period of time. The ‘turn’ can, however, be detached from the land and sold or rented separately. This landowner’s ‘precedence’ has permitted the private development of deep tubewell extraction, which is in some ways in conflict with Islamic principles. Islamic and customary law has no precedent for dealing with a new technology that allows landowners to extract (and sell) unlimited quantities of water from deep aquifers, and modern law has not yet regulated it either.

Following the Water Law, water user associations (WUAs), water user groups (WUGs) and water councils (WCs) were established to transfer operation and maintenance (O&M) functions of the spate irrigation and groundwater irrigation schemes from the MAI to the user organizations. Up to now, 65 WUAs, 1 287 WUGs and 2 WCs (in Wadi Zabid and Wadi Tuban) have been established. They have received training on issues such as technical, financial and administrative management, provided by different projects.

Between 2005 and 2006 the International Programme for Technology and Research in Irrigation and Drainage (IPTRID), carried out the Project Design and Management Training Programme (PDM) for Professionals in the Water Sector in some countries of the Near East such as Yemen. The objective of the programme is to strengthen participants’ capacities in developing more effective and efficient projects to address pressing water issues in the region (FAO, 2008).

Policies and legislation

The government recognizes the critical water situation in the country and is undertaking different actions to deal with it. Several water sector strategies, legislations and policies have been prepared and implementation of some of them has begun. The Water Law was enacted on 31 August 2002, and amended by Parliament in December 2006. Implementation of this law will give a major thrust to the issue of water conservation. On 19 November 2002, the Cabinet passed a decree proclaiming Sa’dah, Sana’a and Ta’iiz protected areas, as stipulated in Article 49 of the Water Law. The National Water Resources Authority (NWRA) will monitor closely these critical areas.

The following policies and the strategies have been developed after assessment of the water sector and irrigation sub-sector:

  • water resources policy and strategy (1999-2000)
  • irrigation water policy (2001)
  • watershed policy (2000)
  • agricultural sector reform policy (2000)
  • urban water supply and sanitation sector reform policy (1997)
  • wastewater reuse strategy (under development).


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       Quote as: FAO. 2016. AQUASTAT website. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Website accessed on [yyyy/mm/dd].
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