Friday, August 23, 2013

Sanaa is Not Using Its Rainwater

Like a number of us interested in Yemen's water issue, I saw this brief video by the BBC earlier this week:

Wish I had a chance to meet the reporter to show him that rainwater is and can be harvested in Sanaa city and not just in agricultural areas.

An interesting large rooftop rainwater harvesting site can be found at Bilquis Club for Women in Sanaa, Yemen. The site could be even larger than it is currently because the club's facilities are part of a large park dedicated to families. Half of the park floods during a heavy rain like what happened this past week in Sanaa. The flooding is magnified by water that is channeled into the park from a main street in Sanaa. Meanwhile the park has four wells, two of which have run dry. One of the two is nearly 1000 meters down and is actually a bore hole.

However, ensuring this park really is family friendly and returning things to way they were (simply put: getting the water back into the ground - groundwater recharge) will require some commitment by folks to realize the vast amounts of water that could be more properly channeled.

I had once heard that a former leader of Yemen had divided the city into areas that would be serviced by parks, centers and schools - all walkable. That type of urban planning unfortunately did not happen. The lack of planning ensures that there will be much of the city needlessly under water that could be channeled elsewhere.


Friday, April 19, 2013

Rooftop Rainwater Harvesting in Aden?

Recently I was asked about rainwater harvesting in Aden. The governorate of Aden (well really it’s a city) receives on average 39 mm (1.5 in) of precipitation annually. See,Aden,Yemen.
So rooftop rainwater harvesting may not be the most practical idea for Aden, although there are historical cisterns in Aden, as I was reminded, and they did collect rainwater flowing off Jebel Shamsan (Aden's Shamsan smallish mountain range). These are the famed cisterns or tanks of Tawila. Here’s a link to a 1965 photo of the tanks:!i=274502832&k=5n243Cs. Also there is a clear write up on the tanks in a British-maintained Adeny history site called Aden Airways in honor of that former airline. Similarly, there is a useful entry in Wikipedia on the tanks. Perhaps I may even know the editor of this wiki entry.

In any event, as the links above inform, the tanks did collect rainwater. They still can. However, the last time that  had heard that the tanks had collected rainwater was in 1993 - twenty years ago! In fact the 1993 rain events were so severe that international donor assistance was requested by the Yemeni government. Here’s the United Nations Department of Humanitarian Affairs cable on the rain events of 1993. The rains seem to have spanned a four-day period. When I visited Aden in early 1994 the middle and lower tanks still had water in them (the photo above was a print from 1993 that I scanned about five years ago). Another heavy rain event occurred in 2010 but the tanks were not filled.

So would I do rainwater harvesting in Aden? Well I wouldn’t do rooftop rainwater harvesting given the minimal precipitation each year. I would probably suggest maintaining the tanks in preparation for the next major rain event. A Yemeni graduate of a USAID program in the 1980s actually had secured support from the Qataris to do this; he was transferred from Aden before the project could be finalized, and according to local officials, the Qataris lost interest and the tanks were not supported. This communal area that plays an important part in the drainage of Shamsan mountain should be supported.


Keep the rain coming

Keep the rain coming!


Monday, April 8, 2013

The Sa'ilah of the Old City: River or Highway?

Rain events in Sanaa are serious and we have to find serious ways to collect that rainwater.

On a typical day, the sa'ilah (the seasonal watercourse that traverses to the Old City and ends in Al Rawdha) is a thru-fare for vehicles (but no longer for pedestrians). When it rains the sa'ilah is virtually impassible. As the pictures show below, the Old City drainage from both sides of the sa'ilah is fed into the highway, now river, and continues to Al Rawdha.



Friday, April 5, 2013

Cycling in Al Rawdha

In addition to the Old City of Sanaa, which incidentally may be stripped of its UNESCO World Heritage site status (the unfortunate subject of a future blog post), the RAINS project has also focused on Al Rawdha neighborhood. This neighborhood in the far reaches of the Capital Secretariat has been known as the Garden City because of its many vineyards.

As much of the city of Sanaa suffers from a diminishing water supply, Al Rawdha still maintains some lovely vineyards and gardens, but not as many as it did in the 1970s. (I’ll also write about these gardens and rainwater harvesting concepts in coming posts.)
As a natural low lying drainage area, Al Rawdha is relatively speaking flat. There are no significant ascents or descents except a small bridge over the saila, the seasonal watercourse that traverses the city of Sanaa, the Old City, and ends in Al Rawdha area.  With Rawdha’s grape vineyards, mud houses, small windy roads, the area is both aesthetically and practically an easy place to ride bicycles.

In fact cycling is a pastime for a number of young people in Al Rawdha. It has perhaps the largest concentration of bicycles. Anecdotally, a few young men from Al Rawdha reported that they were not as affected by the fuel shortage surrounding the Arab Spring because taking bicycles was natural for many of them. I cannot verify that claim but I can certainly say that there were a lot of bikes in Al Rawdha!



Thursday, March 28, 2013

Green Programming Along the Way

As we've been working to promote rainwater harvesting in Sanaa, we have seen a number of "green" projects - urban beekeeping, recycling programs, solar installations, and even an urban wind turbine.

Here's a recycling center around Qiyada Street at the edge of Tahrir district of Sanaa. This center is relatively large and active. These photos do not include the numerous visitors who stopped by in the few minutes I took pictures (and before they realized that I was around).



Saturday, March 23, 2013

Where to Go for Rainwater Harvesting Resources

We get a lot of requests for information on resources on rainwater harvesting and similar ideas for water collection and use.

Currently my webpage provides links to resources that the RAINS teams uses for its sites as well as a few external links. My strengths do not lie in website design so I've been delaying the updates. I hope to update the page for more additional links soon.

A few highlight of updates include:

Zenrainman and his Rainwater Club - I've been seeing his name appear on news feeds and look forward to learning more about his work.


Brad Lancaster - He gave a presentation supported by USAID on urban rainwater harvesting in September 2011 in Amman, Jordan. I was on my way back to Yemen from Jordan around the time of his presentation. I wish that I had known he was there! Anyway, I've pasted a link to his presentation here because I think his first few statements have great meaning for all of us as stewards of where we live!



Friday, March 22, 2013

Thank Yous!

On behalf of the RAINS team and on this World Water Day, thank you belatedly to the Global Urbanist for its article on the RAINS project. Special thanks to the writer, Najiyah Alwazir, whose well-known family originally hails from the Old City of Sanaa.

And again a special thanks to the Philips Livable Cities award for supporting this important project!



Thursday, March 21, 2013

RAINS: Close the Valves!

The first heavy rain of the 2013 season fell yesterday in the city of Sanaa!
And, that's my pond, I mean submerged garden, above about an hour after the last rain event in my area. The accumulated rainfall is not slowing, spreading, and sinking well in the garden, and unfortunately there is no underground well in this location. Addressing this water management landscaping faux-pas (not my own) is next on the list to address.

I love the first heavy rain but also feel sad about all the lost water. The good news is I checked the purge valves of three RAINS sites yesterday evening and all of them had clean water running through. Debris that would have collected since the last rainfall had washed through. With a periodic sweep of the rooftop checking for any large items in the filters and with this first heavy rain, it's now time to close the purge valves (like the one below) and collect rainwater!



"Abu Elf"

In an earlier post, I described an Abu Elf. In Yemeni Arabic, things are often given short names to refer to what they do or in this case what they hold.

Plastic storage tanks are given a standard name of “Abu”(which means “Type of” in this case, not "father") and then their size.

So the 12,000 liter tank that we use on some RAINS sites is in theory called “Abu Ithnashar Elf”, the type of 12,000, or the type of tank that would hold 12,000 liters of water.

However, it's even faster to call these tanks "Abu Elf".

Above is a video of a group of men delivering this massive tank to one of the Old City RAINS sites in late April 2012. The community worked together to offload this massive tank. You can also visit this link:


What a little rain means

Here is what just a little rain in the city means. This was a little rain did on April 10, 2012. Gutters do not exist here.

My favorite post is yet to come on what a little rain can do or in the case I show not do.

You can also find the brief video at:



Saturday, December 1, 2012

Water matters

Last May, the Old City of Sanaa, a UNESCO world heritage site, was not receiving mashroo water (city water) on a regular basis. One particular bad week in early May, families in this quarter had sent their children and teens to collect water from Wayshali mosque in jugs and in whatever fashion possible.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Rainwater harvesting future plans!

Here are some ideas for rainwater harvesting as this project continues to work with Yemenis on meaningful and simple solutions to the water situation in Yemen. Again, special thanks to the Philips Livable Cities Award for Meaningful Innovations! 


Saturday, August 11, 2012

Early Ideas on RAINS

Here are some early ideas on the RAINS project. Initially we at the RAINS team wanted to look at filling underground tanks. Like these drawings featured below.

One day walking along Zubairy Street (the original center of the city of Sanaa), we happened upon above-ground tanks made by Sintex. The tanks we've been looking hold either 5,000, 8,000, or 12,000 liters. The 5,000 liter tank has been shown in a previous post

At some point we'd like to talk to the Sintex distributor in Yemen.


Friday, June 22, 2012

RAINS: Meeting Dr. Rajiv Shah

An incredibly exciting opportunity arose for me to meet Dr. Rajiv Shah, the USAID Administrator, this past week! For Dr. Shah's first visit to Yemen, USAID Yemen organized a roundtable on water and I was invited to the roundtable!

I'm really still quite bubbly about the experience because it was a real privilege. I've heard about Dr. Shah from his work at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation with the Green Alliance and other areas. And I am pleased to report that what I had heard about him matched my brief interaction with him.

Dr. Shah engaged with other participants in the roundtable on water use, challenges and possible solutions in Yemen. Everything related to water in Yemen was discussed - diesel subsidies for irrigation and transportation of qat, the crop of qat, extraction practices that date back to the 1970s, and irrigation techniques like drip irrigation.

At the point that I met him, Dr. Shah apparently had already attended several other roundtables on civil society, private sector development, and the transitional government. He was focused yet open to different viewpoints. He must have been tired at that point but he kept going. It was clear that he engages well with a wide-range of people and brings significant experience and knowledge to the U.S.'s international development portfolio. I'm glad the U.S. has people on board like Dr. Shah.

I had hoped to show Dr. Shah and other distinguished guests like the Deputy Chief of Mission and the Assistant Administrator of USAID one of the RAINS sites in the Old City of Sanaa. Unfortunately the event got cancelled at the last minute, but as they say a picture is worth a thousand words so I distributed a lot of pictures.

Special thanks to the RAINS site implementation team on putting together and constantly improving RAINS sites!