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Decades-old conflict over water in yemeni village comes to an end

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International Organization for Migration IOM
Established in 1951, IOM is the leading inter-governmental organization in the field of migration and works closely with governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental partners.
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  • Decades-old conflict over water in yemeni village comes to an end
    IOM and FAO support communities in Yemen to rehabilitate irrigation channels and solve long-running local conflicts over water access. Photo: IOM

More than 20 million people in Yemen are food insecure and water is a scarce resource, with access further restricted by over four years of conflict. This is especially challenging for farmers who depend on water for a good harvest.  Through support from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), in partnership with the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), access to water has been improved for Yemeni farmers living across nearly 4,000 acres of agricultural land in the coastal governorate of Lahj.

In the area of Al Faradha, improved access to water for 2,000 farmers, as reported by the local community, has also meant an end to a 37-year-old local conflict.

In 1982, a large flood surged into Al Faradha causing great damage to an irrigation channel used by local farmers, who solely depended on rain passing through the channel to irrigate their farms. When the channel was damaged, many of them were deprived of access to water for their farms.

The farms were nourished with water, the crops were abundant, and the farms were green, but when the flood destroyed the channel, farmers could not irrigate their lands and stopped farming,” explained Sami Saleh, the Secretary General of the Water User Association in Al Faradha. Years of fighting have meant that there are little resources available for the maintenance to public infrastructure like irrigation channels, and in a country like Yemen where7.4 million people require services to treat or prevent malnutrition, ensuring that farmers can grow crops is of paramount importance.

“This is truly a community-led project, with IOM and FAO merely listening to the community about their needs and problems and facilitating them in addressing their water access issues"

In a desperate attempt to irrigate their lands, farmers in Al Faradha changed the path of the channel by connecting it to other nearby main channels, diverting the water flow. The detour, while increasing access for some farmers, decreased the water flow to the farmlands of others. The flow became too little and was shared by too many farms, and upstream in the channel flooding would take place with the excess watering running into the sea and being lost by the community. The farmers livelihoods were heavily affected, and a dispute arose between more than 500 farmers from Al Faradha and others living in nearby areas. A dispute that lasted for nearly 30 years.

Through funding from the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund, IOM partnered with FAO to support the community in Al Faradha solve their long running water access issues. The UN organizations worked with the local Water User Association to kick start the process. The three partners met the parties involved in the local conflict to understand their issues and work together on possible solutions.

“This is truly a community-led project, with IOM and FAO merely listening to the community about their needs and problems and facilitating them in addressing their water access issues,” said Abeer Aboras, a member of IOM’s team in Yemen. “It’s also important to note that women, who work side-by-side with men in farms or are often heads of rural households, had an essential role in resolving Al Faradha’s water access problems,” added Aboras.

Before this project, the Al Faradha Water User Association, established in 2004, had never included any women on its board. During the project, the Association members came to believe in the positive impact of including women in conflict resolution. To work specifically on resolving the water conflict, IOM established a Conflict Resolution Committee (CRC) in Al Faradha, which consisted of two women and two men to begin negotiations in order to come up with a solution.

The Association and Committee, with local farmers, decided to build a dam to stop the water from flowing away from local farmlands, reconstruct water gates and remove sediment from the channel to increase its capacity to contain more water.

“The water is enough water for everyone living off these irrigation channels now, so the dispute subsided between the farmers, and their agricultural productivity has increased greatly,” added Thamer Bin Shoa’ib, an IOM Yemen Field Engineer, who worked with the community in Al Faradha.

Today, an IOM partner supervises the operation of the dam, ensuring every farm gets its fair share of water.

IOM and FAO implemented this UN Peace Building Fund project in both Sana’a and Lahj governorates. As a result of the project, thousands of farmers have improved access to water through rehabilitated irrigation channels in seven sites throughout Lahj governorate’s Turban Valley, with around 400 people from local communities employed during the construction work.

The irrigation channel rehabilitations have not only assisted farmers in rebuilding their livelihoods and given vulnerable households an income but helped communities end age-old local conflicts.