Archive for October, 2017


Geothermal for food security to Yemen

All the countries around the Red Sea have large geothermal resources that is lying untapped for unknown reasons. Millions of dollars are spent to fight poverty and hunger but the financial institutions have no idea about how to eliminate this issue permanently…..or they do it deliberately so that these countries always depend on them!!. One such country is Yemen Republic that is on the verge of facing famine.
The geographic area occupied by Yemen is about 528000 km2 and only 7 % of this land area is cultivable. 10% of this land is being used for qat cultivation. Greater than 52000 wells draw groundwater to support irrigated farming including qat cultivation. Qat being a “rural economy crop”, qat cultivation is given more importance than other crops like wheat, oats, vegetables and fruits. Due to depletion in groundwater qat cultivation and cultivation of other food products are declining and the country is heavily in to virtual water trade (VWT). Qat cultivation consumes 60 million m3 of groundwater. Qat contributes 25% of the country’s GDP, providing about 16% of employment and hence it is difficult to curb cultivation of this crop by the government. It is a high altitude crop and grows in areas with rainfall between 500-1000 mm or grows with irrigation. Qat cultivated area has grown from 8 000 ha in 1970 to > than 90 000 ha currently with production going up by 600 million bundles in 1995 from 35 million bundles in 1970. The farmers have great profit from qat sales that ranges from $ 2 billion/y retail value from $ 640 million at farm gate value. However, the country has an option to protect food and water security through desalination of Red Sea water using its huge geothermal energy resource. This will help the country to provide food and water to the growing population for the next few decades.

The Ministry of Water and Environment is preparing a feasibility study for a brackish groundwater desalination plant. If feasible, the planned 5 million L/day plant will help alleviate the city’s water shortage problem including cultivation.

The country should utilize its untapped geothermal energy to support generation of fresh water from the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden there by provide continuous water and energy to support qat as well as other food crops and reduce dependence on VWT and imports. The Damt geothermal province is akin to Jizan geothermal province and has the potential to generate > than 134 x 106 kWh of electricity. There are other geothermal province in Yemen yet to be exploited.
Desalination cost estimates using different energy sources indicate that generate one m3 of desalinated water from the Red Sea using conventional energy source costs ~ 3 US$, while using solar pv, the cost is 9 US$ and with geothermal source it is 1.61 US$

Currently the UN agriculture agency and the World Bank is launching a new initiative to avert famine in Yemen and sanctioned US$ 36 million to bail out the country from the oncoming tragedy. One of the goals of the aid it to provide longterm sustainable agricultural support.
A part of the aid, for sure, will help them to fill their hunger but for sustainable growth such short sighted policy funds may not give them sustainable growth. What Yemen needs now is water and energy. The funding agencies should revise their policies and spend such amount in developing the country’s geothermal resources. Once the country is able to support its own electricity, then automatically other issues will be resolved in due course. As detailed above, the funding agencies, if, are truly interested in uplifting the poverty of Yemen population, their priorities should change. It is not clear whether they draft such policies deliberately or not is not clear. According to the funding agencies, the grant, will boost productivity, income and nutrition, especially in those most famine-hit regions in the country. Providing food supply over a long period of time will not make the population free from hunger. Developing the country’s energy sources like geothermal should be the priority. The country will be independent and be able to stand on its own feet. This should be the policy of the funding agencies and the new SG of UN will realize this.