Socotra Island, a World Heritage Site (WHS) for nature, is the largest dry island in the region. It is located in the Indian Ocean, about 400km offshore from mainland Yemen and with a surface area of about 4,000 square kilometers. The survival of local Socotra communities with approximately 45,000 inhabitants depends on fishing and herding livestock, with improved water management and conservation, a key concern for humans and animals (including wildlife) during the dry season.
Building on traditional practices, the GEF Small Grants Programme (SGP), implemented by UNDP, has supported the continuation and revitalization of indigenous community management systems for natural resource utilization on Socotra Island.
The GEF SGP provided financial and technical support to assist the Ma'la pastoral communities in western Socotra through the project Rain water Harvest in Ma'la Plateau with promoting the sustainable use of water resources, improving their water management practices, as well as enhancing the water supply during the dry season. The project was funded by the GEF SGP and Ma'la pastoral communities, with the GEF SGP providing a grant of US$ 49,669 under the GEF focal area Land Degradation. The communities' contribution in project funding totaled US$ 95,264 in cash and in-kind. The project spread over a wide area, which is mainly used by pastoralists who live in small settlements. The total number of beneficiaries was 166 families, which totaled 1,100 inhabitants. The project was implemented between 2009 and 2011. Through the project, the communities constructed 34 traditional rain-water harvesting cisterns called "Kariefs" with a total water holding capacity of 6,350 cubic meters. During the rainy season, these cisterns are filled up with rainwater to be used throughout the dry season and at least 50 community members were trained to be able to build further cisterns in the future. Women were also trained through several workshops on aspects of water management, uses, and sanitation.
Immediate benefits of the project included the reduced pressure on the environment, improved resource management as well as increased water security for the local communities. The project also created a better understanding of the importance of conservation of biological and natural resources and their sustainable uses as well as adapting to climate change impacts among communities in the region. Revitalizing traditional practices of rain-water harvesting has improved the availability of water in grazing areas and hence reduced animal migration in search of water, avoiding the resulting erosion in approximately 3,000 hectares of land.
The socio-economic benefits of the project include improved water supply for the community as well as reduced expenses for water transport from other regions to this island community. "Thank God and thanks to the GEF Small Grants Programme in Yemen, which has made our lives much easier", said Sheikh Ghadef S. Ghadef, head of one of the Ma'la plateau communities in Socotra.
The project has drawn the interest of the government as it strongly focuses its policies on water security and was also supported by a government strategy to improve the livelihoods of remote rural communities. The techniques and lessons learnt by the Ma'la pastoral communities will be of great help when addressing water management issues in other regions of Socotra. The success story of effective water management and conservation measures to overcome water shortages by these communities is already becoming widely adopted on the island. Several communities are interested in replicating this experience. The project has also raised awareness of the local communities in Socotra, which are becoming increasingly pro-active in conserving their environment and taking measures to promote sustainability of their livelihoods.