Why indigenous water systems are declining and how to revive them: A rough set analysis

Musaed Aklan


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PhD Researcher

IHE Delft Institute for Water Education


Indigenous water systems in Yemen have been in decline for decades. The study looked at how this is happening and what that means for Yemen in this fragile state of conflict.

The decline of rainwater harvesting, or indigenous water systems, in Yemen is happening at a time when people are facing droughts and flash floods. Although Yemen is a country with a rich history in traditional harvesting systems, Yemen does not have enough surface water and the depletion of groundwater is alarming. A revival of water systems in rural areas is important to sustain the population.

It is important to understand the decline of the systems of what could be done about it. The purpose of the research was to identify the underlying factors of the decline in the Sana’a Basin as a case study and considered ways to reverse it.

Key Findings

Over 96% of respondents confirmed that indigenous water systems were declining.
Easy access to groundwater was identified as one reason why rainwater harvesting was in decline.
Ineffective government water management and limited support to farmers play a large role in why indigenous water systems were abandoned and groundwater is depleting. For example, wealthier people could invest in digging wells and extracting groundwater without proper management due to a lack of enforceable laws.
Because of the difficult situation in Yemen, there is renewed interest in reviving rainwater harvesting. However, support from the government and international community is vital.

    How to apply research

    The state provides subsidies to drill and operate wells which promotes excessive use of groundwater. By raising awareness about the harm this has caused and the need for concrete rainwater harvesting revival strategies, farmers would receive the support they need.

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      About this research

      This journal article was part of a collaborative effort

      Charlottede Fraiture

      Laszlo G. Haydea

      Marwan Moharamd

      This research was independently conducted and did not receive funding from outside of the university.

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      UN Sustainable Development Goals

      This research contributes to the following SDGs

      About this research

      This research was independently conducted and did not receive funding from outside of the university.

      This paper was co-authored

      Charlottede Fraiture

      Laszlo G. Haydea

      Marwan Moharamd

      Recommended for

      What findings means

      With the increasing costs of living and fuel and the lack of consistent energy sources, access to water is becoming more challenging. Yemen has a rich history of indigenous water systems which provide sustainable solutions that are localised and would have a great impact on the wellbeing and livelihoods of people living in rural areas.

      Findings in practice

      Groundwater in Yemen is depleting rapidly at an average of two to eight metres per year. In Sana’a Basin alone, there are over 1500 groundwater wells which have dried up which shows how serious this problem is. This rapid depletion has become, in a way, an incentive for farmers to revive indigenous systems that can alleviate the water crises they are facing. There have been positive outcomes in Amran where rainwater harvesting was successful and helped the farmers mitigate the crisis. There are many examples but government support and effective interventions are needed in order to help the farmers revive these systems.


      The methodology for this paper was using a rough set analysis to analyse 100 interviews with farmers, 65 interviews with experts and 22 rainwater harvesting system visits.

      Want to read the full paper? It is available open access

      Aklan, Musaed, et al. (2022). ‘Why indigenous water systems are declining and how to revive them: A rough set analysis’. Journal of Arid Environments , 202.

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      for helping to prepare this research