Gail Al-Awar: From Oblivion to a Sustainable Lifeline
A marvel of engineering creativity, the water network system was engraved in the rock at depths of up to 17 meters and a length of 600 meters. It carries water from its source at the bottom of Zkhar Mount northwest of the city to a reservoir in the south east of the village, and then to neighboring orchards. The canal remains one of Yemen’s most important pre-Islamic creative landmarks, shedding light on Yemen's long history of using sophisticated methods to distribute groundwater. As such, the canal represents an archaeologically unique and historically valuable landmark.
Over the decades, the canal was transformed into a place teeming with pollution and garbage. This was due to the fact that the local population had begun to drain their sewage in the canal, and because of the creation of wells to divert the water that used to flow in the canal to irrigate Qat in other areas. After providing a public benefit for hundreds of years, the canal became a forgotten landmark.
In recognition of the importance of the canal as a historical and tourist locale, the SFD, during the past years, undertook a series of cleaning and restoration actions in two phases. In the first phase the SFD made the canal’s facilities visible and restored its underground course. In the second phase, the SFD cleaned the reservoir and its surrounding area and repaired back to its normal functionality. Today Gail Al-Awar Canal is back to its original purpose as a lifeline pulsing with the water of life for the village of Shibam - Kawkaban.
Despite the completion of maintenance and restoration efforts of the canal and reservoir, certain obstacles and threats to the canal’s sustainability remained. One problem was that the local authorities and stakeholders did not involve the community in their efforts, failing to inform them of the threats posed by continued excessive pumping of water from neighboring wells and by the households living along the canals' courses. Another obstacle to the project’s sustainability is the presence of modest metal stores used as trade shops directly next to the reservoir; these stores may increase pollution to the reservoir and undermine the views that could help to generate tourism.
Amid growing neglect, a substantial community need has emerged for this canal as a result of the national shortage of diesel and electricity in 2011. The shortage brought all water pumps to a standstill in the village, resulting in a shortage of water. The people’s only resort was the Gail Al-Awar Canal, which was flowing profusely after the pumps stopped working. They again started lining up before that source of life as did their grandparents in the past. The SFD seized the opportunity and launched an intensive awareness program to motivate the community through a package of awareness activities. They include introducing community members to the factors that threaten the preservation of this landmark as a reliably sustainable supplier of water that benefits all segments of society and as a unique historical attraction spot that can be generate tourism. These activities targeted all sectors of society in the village. One of the most important outputs of these activities is that the community members understood the different potential of this project in improving their lives. Immediately after the events and activities, they established public opinion and collective controlling regulations. These include prohibiting the sale of water to areas outside of Shibam, particularly to a neighboring village to irrigate Qat; scheduling the operation of pumps; and removing the small pools adjacent to the canal. A community committee also formed to follow up with the implementation of community regulations and to report on the interior status of the canal. In addition, the regulations required the local council to coordinate with the relevant authorities to rehabilitate the canal and promote it as a tourist attraction.
Today the Shibam community is benefiting from the water provided by the historic Gail Al-Awar Canal, as well as participating in its conservation efforts so that the canal may live in the memory of generations as a flowing water source and immortal historical landmark.