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Savoirs locaux et agriculture durable au Yémen

Frédéric Pelat
Amin Al-Hakimi


Traditional methods of spate irrigation in the former Sultanate of Lahj, Lahj Governorate – Yemen

Ali Aidrous Assakaf et Ahmed S. Ba-swaid
Traduction de Saeed A. Ba Angood

Texte intégral

  • 1 al-Harbi, 1997 al-Harbi, Dalal bint Mukhled, 1997, The relation between Britain and the Sultanate (...)

1Lahj, a region of southern Yemen near Aden, is a makhlāf related to Lahj bin Wā’il bin al-Ghūth bin Qatin bin cUrayb bin Zuhayr bin ’Ayman bin al-Humayc bin Himyar bin Saba’ bin Yashjub bin Yacrub bin Qahtān. The region lies in the southeast of Yemen, just north of Aden, through which runs the well-known Wādī Tuban where is located the famous Himyari dam sadd cArāyis, also known as Lahj dam, built at the time of al-Tabābacah.1

  • 2 al-Abdali, Fadhl bin Ali Mohsen, 1980, The gift of time in news of Lahj and Aden Kings, Beirut, p. (...)

2Shaikh Fadl bin cAlī al-cAbdalī founded Mashyakhah al-cAbādil following his alliance with the Yāfic tribes and his separation from the central state in Sancā’, then weakened by wars and conflicts between contending imams. He conquered Aden in Ramadan 1145 AH/February 1742 and returned to Lahj in the last ten days of Dhū al-Qacdah of the same year. This mashyakhah was known as al-cAbādil Sultanate or al-cAbdalī, and later called Lahj Sultanate. The later name was prevalent particularly at the time of Shaykh cAbd al-Karīm Fadl bin cAlī al-’Awwal who succeeded his father after the latter’s death, and who in 1155 AH was the first to call himself Sultān al- cAbādil.2

  • 3 al-Harbi, op. cit., 1997, pp. 19-21, 25.
  • 4 al-Abdali, op. cit., 1980, pp. 333-34.
  • 5 al-Harbi, op. cit., 1997, p. 25.

3Mashyakhah al-cAbādil was one of the oldest mashyakhāt of southwestern Arabia. Fadl bin cAlī made al-Hawtah the capital of his mashyakhah. Also called Lahj, the district includes such villages as al-Waht and al-Hamrā’.3 In the period of the cAbādil sultanate agriculture flourished in Lahj. Before the British colonized Aden, Lahj and Aden were almost isolated from each other, with no trade. Agriculture limited to a few areas of sorghum fields and to sesame grown in Wādī Tuban, just enough to sustain the inhabitants and their animals; farmers did not grow vegetables and fruits. Early in the sultanate’s existence unsettled conditions restricted cultivation to the vicinity of farmers’ dwellings: farmers seldom strayed far from home for fear of theft of their crops, and the harvest sometimes occurred under gun-fire.4 The cAbādil sultans concerned themselves with agriculture, introducing fruit trees from India, Egypt, Sancā’ and Zabīd, and creating several new agricultural regimes. The resulting improvements in agricultural productivity made Lahj a good supplier of vegetables and grains for the Aden market following the British occupation in 1254/1839.5 We might consider the year 1265/1849 as the beginning of Lahj’s agricultural reconnaissance, when the agreement signed between cAlī bin Muhsin Fadl and the British representative in Aden included provisions that the sultan should encourage the production of vegetables and legumes in Lahj, in exchange for which Aden would satisfy by gift Lahj’s seed requirement.

  • 6 al-Abdali, op. cit., 1980, p. 36.
  • 7 al-Harbi, op. cit., 1997, p. 25.

4The Sultanate of Lahj occupied one of the most fertile agricultural areas of Yemen, but depended mainly on flood irrigation in Wādī Tuban, supplemented by water from springs and occasionally by tube wells. Pump irrigation was introduced during the rule of Sultān cAbd al- Karīm Fadl.6 cAbd al Masīh Intākī Bik, the owner of the Egyptian journal al-cUmrān, visited Lahj on 4 Shacbān 1325 AH (11 September 1907) and mentioned that the sultanate contained 100 thousand acres of cultivated lands.7

  • 8 al-Abdali, op. cit., 1980, p. 32; al-Harbi, op. cit., 1997, 14.

5Wādī Tuban combines the flow of Wādī Warazān and Wādī Maytam, the former finding its headwaters northwest of Tacizz, the latter in the Ibb governorate. Once out of the mountains the wādī course runs southward over the coastal plain before splitting, upstream from Lahj town, into two main branches to form a delta. The eastern branch, al-Wādī al-Saghīr (also called Wādī or cUbar Lazzān) diverts eastward at Zāydah village and runs toward cImād village without reaching the coast. The western branch, al-Wādī al-Kabīr, also splits at Zāydah village and runs to Macallā in Aden. Both branches feed into canals called ’acbār (sing. ‘ubar) which in turn connect to smaller canals called sawāqi (sing. sāqiyah) or ashruj (sing. sharj). The villages of Lahj are distributed along these wādīs and ’acbār. The fields, surrounded by earthen walls that keep irrigation water on the fields, are designated by different terms according to size: the largest is falaj, the smaller grades of fields dahl, jirbah and fathah. Fields upstream of the delta are called mardac, while those in the delta are manta’. Each field also has an individual name.8

6Lahj has a coastal climate (Table 1): summer heat reaches a peak monthly mean of 32oC while winter offers a more tolerable 24oC monthly mean ; relative humidity is about 75%. The district suffer from a shortage of rainfall, the mean annual total barely exceeding 50mm. Agriculture in Lahj was and is dependent on water from other source, notably run-off from the mountains to the north (see Table 2) but now increasingly on pumped well-water.

The objective and methods of this study

7This paper considers the traditional methods of spate irrigation prevalent in the Sultanate of Lahj, to raise the question of whether we might make use of these methods in areas where modern methods of irrigation are not economical. If so then traditional and modern methods of irrigation may complement each other in spate irrigation. The following discussion is based on scientific reports, Ph.D. theses, information sheets, and personal interviews. We also depend on analytical methods for describing traditional spate irrigation in Lahj Sultanate, to confirm that we might make use of this tradition in places where modern methods are not feasible.

Results and discussion

  • 9 Fadhl Jabr Yamani, Senior Agricultural Extension Officer, personal communication.

8Spate irrigation in the Lahj Sultanate involves constructing across wādīs diversion dams that deliver water to fields without damaging soil or crops. In the traditional system, diversion of flood water onto fields began with the habl area, where a weir across the wādī diverted floods into al-wādī al-sāghīr in the left and al-wādī al-kabīr in the right, and also reduced the pressure of floods. The traditional weir, about 150 m long, seven meters wide and four meters high, was built in alternating layers of logs and sacks of stones. This structure crossed the wādī in the same location later chosen for the concrete diversion dam constructed in 1959 when the Sultanate joined the Federation of Arab Emirates of the South. The modern diversion dam, called sadd ra’s al-wādī, now acts as the habl area.9 The present dam is a concrete construction across the wādī bed, with cement piers perpendicular to its base and sluices that can be closed by wooden gates.

9Three downstream dams on each wādī course - sadd al-Faqīd Nāsir cĀmir (Bayzij), sadd al-Hadārim and Sadd al-Bustān on al-Wādī al-Saghīr, sadd Fālij, sadd Mujāhid and sadd al-Waht on al-Wādī al-Kabīr - help to increasing water levels in the wādīs and to direct water into the ’acbār that branch off from the wādīs. Flood water enter the acbār through inlets called ru’ūs al-’acbār where the flow of water can be regulated. Flow through an cubar can also be regulated with a macdhal, an outlet that can be opened to release excessive water back into the wādī bed. Water passes from an cubar into a secondary channel, a sharj, again as the action of a diversion barrage (a cuqmah or mashacbah) ; a smaller earthen barrage, a lujcah, then directs water from the sharj into a cultivated basin. Sometimes a sharj is fitted with concrete-faced gates as the internal inlets into basins. These gates slow water flow into a basin, thus inhibiting erosion. Agricultural basins typically each cover a quarter to a half feddan, but sometimes exceed two feddans in area (see above for terms for fields of different size). The earthen embankments enclosing basins, called aswām (sing. sawm), are about two meters high and are capable of retaining water up to a meter deep within the basin.

  • 10 Mahmoud, Abdel Habib Abd al-Sattar, 1988, Flood water, sources and methods of proper utilization i (...)

10Spate irrigation, in essence irrigation by flooding, has several advantages: periodic deposition of silt on fields, with its concomitant renewal of soil fertility, and leaching of salts the build-up of which would otherwise create unproductive saline soils. A drawback of spate irrigation is potential delivery of excess water to fields.10 But such water does infiltrate into the regional watertable where it becomes available for well irrigation, particularly during dry seasons or during dry years.

11Traditional spate irrigation in Lahj has been correlated with water by-laws that encourage to a fair distribution of water among all farmers above and below the wādī split. On 15 Dhū al-Hajjah 1369 (27 September 1950) sultān Fadl Abd al-Karīm (r. 1947-1952) promulgated Sultanate Decree No. 1 for the year 1950 titled ‘Decree of A law for the Agricultural Court and Agricultural Council’ (here translated in Appendix 1), which superceded previous agricultural by-laws. The tasks of the Agricultural Council (Item B) include issues concerning control of irrigation, provision of redress and punishment, provision of water to each cubar, sharj and khālif according to its needs and to the prevailing rules. The tasks of the Agricultural Council also include the division of wādīs, and repairing acbār and mashācib. The Sultanate Decree also mentioned some punishment for those who do not abide by the rules. This law was considered a very good step towards governmental regulation of spate irrigation.


12The construction of traditional earthen dams (cuqum) along the running wādī is still practiced. Such barrages diverge floods and can be easily rebuilt after big floods destroy them. Reconstructing these cuqum may cost a lot, but the cost is less than that of concrete dams that can be washed away just as easily as the traditional design. We advocate making feasibility studies for both types of dams, to identify the design giving the optimal balance between cost and returns. We suggest that concrete dams will prove better suited to large areas capable of agricultural expansion but that earthen dams (cuqum) may be more fit for smaller fixed areas.

  • No doubt construction of concrete weirs may increase the efficiency of irrigation, but it always affects and changes the traditional system of irrigation, particularly for areas on the lower reaches of the wādī. We must take the latter effect into consideration when building concrete weirs, so that unjustifiable distribution of water does not result.
  • Studies and research should concentrate on varieties of crops that do well with just one or two spate waterings while growing. These varieties should be grown in spate irrigation areas. Crops that need more frequent watering to give good yield should be grown in well-irrigated areas.
  • 11 Data from Mahmoud, op. cit. 1988.

Table 1. Meteorological data of Lahj area, 1973-198511

Month Mean temp. (oC) Mean max. temp (oC) Mean min. temp. (oC) Mean relative humidity (%) Wind speed (m/sec) Sun radiation (cm2/day) Evaption (mm) Day light (hr) Rainfall (mm)
January 24.6 28.4 19.9 73 1.2 356 6.7 7 1.5
February 24.7 27.4 20.2 74 1.2 359 7.7 8 8.7
March 26.0 31.1 21.6 73 1.2 441 9.0 9 6.7
April 28.1 33.9 23.3 70 1.1 455 9.9 10 3.3
May 30.1 35.9 25.1 68 1.1 464 10.9 10.9 10.2
June 31.9 37.7 27.1 62 1.0 465 10.7 10.7 1.2
July 31.9 37.5 27.3 62 1.1 460 12.3 12 3.1
August 31.6 37.4 26.5 64 1.1 460 12.3 12 3.1
September 30.5 35.9 25.7 69 0.9 425 10.0 10 17.1
October 27.4 33.4 22.5 68 1.1 459 9.3 9.3 0.7
November 25.5 31.2 20.7 67 1.0 433 8.0 8.0 0.5
December 24.3 29.5 20.5 69 1.0 399 7.0 7.0 0.0
  • 12 Data from Mahmoud, op. cit., 1988.

Table 2. Main hydrological data for Wādī Tuban12

Area of water basin (km2) Max. elevation of the basin (m- asl) Mean annual rainfall (mm) Mean annual rainfall on the basin (mm3) Mean annual floods (mm3) Max. flow (m3 / min)
5600 200 1500 8400 125 2150

Appendix: Decree by Law of the Agricultural Council and Agricultural Court13

  • 13 This text is also presented in English translation by Maktari, A.M., 1971, Water Rights and Irriga (...)

13Source: Tuban Printing and Publishing House

14We Fadl Abd al-Karīm, Sultān of Lahj by Mighty God care;
As agriculture constitutes an important wealth in the Sultanate, which depends upon agriculture for its prosperity and happiness; and
As we are seeking a bright agriculture future; and
As this will not happen unless justice and discipline are respected in irrigation and all aspects of agriculture;
Therefore, we decide the following:

  • the Law concerned with the Agricultural Council and Agricultural Court shall be enforced starting from the date of issuance;
  • all previous legislations concerned agriculture superceded by this Law;
  • the Director of Agriculture is responsible in executing this Law.

15 Dhū al-Hijjah 1369
27 September 1950
Fadl Abd al-Karīm

Agricultural Council and Agricultural Court Law

Section One


  • The Agricultural Council shall consist of a chairman who is the Director of Agriculture, a Deputy Chairman who is the Deputy Director of Agriculture, and 17 members. The number of members may be increased to 25, representing landlords and farmers. Mashāyikh al-’acbār [supervisors of channels] from both wādīs may be invited to attend the meetings, but their views are merely advisory.
  • The Director of Agriculture shall present a list of candidates for membership of the Agricultural Council to His Highness the Sultān. His Highness shall select from this list the required number and then shall issue his approval for them.
  • Membership in the Council shall be a two-year period starting from the first day of the appointment.

B. The Council Tasks

  • Controlling irrigation issues;
  • Adopting the system of al-’aqnāc [apportioning of water] and al-radāyic [sequence in time of water apportionment] and giving each cubr, mashacbah, sharj and khālif water according to the rules;
  • Regulating partnership and lease agreements;
  • Distributing land between small and big farmers;
  • Dividing wādīs;
  • Repairing acbār and mashācib;
  • Establishing a system of irrigating lands so as to make the opportunity to irrigate dry lands first, and to water the murdac [upper wādī] and then manta’ [lower wādī];
  • Regulating the furūq [contributions for maintenance of water courses] on the acbār and wādīs and make a special fund for them;
  • Making a special system for irrigation of ghurbah [a variety of sorghum] and giving sorghum the water necessary to ensure farmers’ food;
  • Supervising the sale and purchase of agricultural products according to custom;
  • Punishing those who do not abide by the rules;
  • Preparing an annual report showing the Council’s work, and its income and expenditures, the Director of Agriculture to present this report to His Highness the Sultān who is then to publish it to be read by all people;
  • Issuing laws and by-laws with the approval of the Sultān.

C. The Council Meetings

  • The Council shall meet twice a month, but in the flood season it shall meet twice a week. Days of meetings are Monday and Thursday, and the Council may meet more than twice as necessary.
  • The Sultān may order the Council to meet at any time he wants.
  • If a member of the council does not attend four meetings without excuse, he shall be considered no longer a member, and the Sultan shall appoint another person in his stead.
  • The Director of Agriculture usually heads the meetings; but if he is absent, his deputy shall replace him. If both were absent, the chairman may be elected from the members present.
  • The decisions of the Council shall be taken by majority votes. If votes are equal for two decisions, the chairman shall have two votes. A meeting is not in quorum unless at least half the members are present.

Section two

Part One: Compensation Irrigation

  • (a) Lands irrigated as compensation, whether by custom, or each three to four years, or due to damage in a cubar difficult to repair, shall have the right to take the water in compensation. Compensation is usually two types, either customary compensation or benefit compensation.
    (b) Customary compensation shall be as it has been in the past, and is irrigation from the alternative or compensating cubar.
    (c) Benefit compensation, such as for damage to acbār in the middle of the season that cannot be repaired until the end of the season where it is possible to compensate the damage from another cubar, shall not obstruct irrigation in the compensating cubar and shall provide the compensatory water after the irrigation of the lands scheduled for that season.
  • (a) Committees shall be formed for surveying and constructing acbār. All cubar and canal rights shall be individually documented. These documents shall be made public at the Department of Agriculture for one month, and if the Department receives no objection, the rights for each cubar shall be registered separately in a book and shall be respected for irrigation.
    (b) After surveying and leveling lands, the authority shall announce that it has finished its plan for irrigation priorities, and each person who wants to know his irrigation priority or who objects to the plan may come to the Department of Agriculture for discussion during the one month following the announcement. After the one month following the announcement no objection may be allowed except from those persons who were away from the Sultanate. Announcement should be by tatrūb (a man walking in the main streets, stopping for a while and shouting aloud for the public of the words of the announcement).
  • If an amicable agreement is not worked out with those who object to the arrangements of irrigation, then the council shall intervene and shall work out a amicable agreement.
  • If a cubar needs major repairs, the council shall send a person to estimate the repairs. Money for repairs shall be given to the mashāyikh al-’acbār. The Council shall appoint two persons to supervise expenditure of money and shall give a report to the Council Treasury.
  • If partial damage occurred suddenly to a cubar, the mashāyikh al-’acbār have the right to call the people responsible for thecubar to make the necessary repairs. If they do not come in time, the shaykh al-cubar may spend up to 100 rupees for repairs, which those who did not respond shall reimburse.
  • acbār may not be demolished until irrigation through it has finished, particularly in cases in which the irrigated land is devoted to ghirbah [sorghum].
  • (a) Zahū [supplemental irrigation] shall be given only to ghirbah ; sayfī [a sorghum normally used as fodder] shall not be given a zahū unless it is to stay in the field until it produces grain.
    (b) If ghirbah is planted on land that is not supposed to grow ghirbah according to the cropping plan, then this land shall not be allowed a zahū.

Part Two: The Council Treasury

  • The Council Income:
    (a) From furūq for wādīs and acr;
    (b) From punishment fines;
    (c) Donations (public or governmental).
  • Everybody who pays any amount of money to the Treasury must be given a receipt from the Council Treasury.
  • A report of income shall be presented weekly by the Council Treasury to the Department of Finance, and money shall be transferred weekly to the Finance Treasury.
  • The Agricultural Council shall adopt the financial system of the Department of Finance.
  • The Treasurer shall not spend any money from the Treasury unless by permission of the Chairman, or of the Deputy Chairman if the Chairman is absent.
  • The Chairman has the right to spend money from the Treasury without the approval of the Council in cases of necessity. The Council shall determine this amount of money.
  • Each six months two accountants shall be nominated to review the Council Fund. Those accountants shall be among the members of the Council.
  • All members of the Council have the right to check the accounts and review them.

Section three: The Agricultural Court

Part One: Structure and tasks of the Agricultural Court

A. Administrative arrangements of the Court, cases and lawsuits that the Court shall hear, and Laws upon which the Court shall depend in judgments.

  • An Agricultural Court shall be established in Lahj to consider agricultural cases that the Legal [sharīcah] Court is unable to decide using customary law [curf].
  • The duties of this Court shall be temporary until a Law is issued to direct the Legal Courts to settle agricultural cases by customary law. We consider Islamic Law to be the only law of the country.
  • The Agricultural Court shall consist of three persons. They must have agricultural experience, be familiar with customary law, and have the intelligence to make good decisions.
  • A judgment shall be issued if at least two of the judges approve it.
  • A judgment shall be issued according to the items in Parts Two, Three and Four of Section Three of this Law. If there is no text mentioned in these items, judgment shall be rendered according to the customary laws and practices of the area.
  • The Court shall consider all agricultural cases mentioned in Item (1). Its decision shall be final if penalties do not exceed imprisonment for more than 20 days or a fine of more than 200 rupees. If the decision entails penalties exceeding these limits, the Court decision shall be considered preliminary and liable to higher appeal.

B. Allegation Procedure

  • The plaintiff shall present two copies of his charge to the Secretary of the Court. After consulting with the Chairman of the Court and the plaintiff, the Secretary shall determines the day of the hearing. The case may not be delayed for a long time.
  • The Secretary shall notify the defendant in the case by giving him a copy of the charge and obliging him to sign the original letter of invitation to the Court. The original copy shall be returned to the Court twenty-four hours before the date of the hearing in the Court.
  • The Secretary of the Court shall then registered all necessary information about the case, including the names of the plaintiff and defendant, their addresses and their jobs, the subject of the case, date of presentation and the fees paid.
  • When the plaintiff presents his charge he shall pay a fee. A receipt for the fee shall be given in two copies, one attached to the paper of the charge and the other given to the plaintiff. This is a document for the plaintiff that shows that he has presented his case to the Court and has paid the necessary fees.
  • The Court shall hear the case on the scheduled date. It is necessary not to delay agricultural cases, particularly during agricultural seasons.

C. Higher Appeal for Agricultural Cases

  • The cases for which judgment includes imprisonment for more than 20 days or payment of a fine of more than 200 rupees shall be open to appeal by both defendant and plaintiff.
  • An appeal shall be presented to the Legal Adviser of the Sultān as a written Notice of Appeal showing the reasons for appeal as well as the previous judgment and the date of judgment.
  • The appeal shall be presented to the Secretary of the Agricultural Court. He shall then register it and shall within two days send it to the appellant for reply. The appellant shall reply within three days. The Secretary of the Court then shall send all papers concerning the case to the Legal Adviser.
  • The Legal Adviser shall then refer the case to two Agricultural Experts who shall examine the case and give their judgment. If both agree on a decision, their decision shall be final. If their judgment differs, then the Adviser shall decide which is the proper judgment and shall give his decision.
  • A judgment of the higher appeal shall be final, and shall be executed without delay.
  • All judgments shall be registered in a special separate registry book.

Part Two: Transactions concerned with agriculture

  • If a dispute arises between the seller and buyer of any agricultural product (sorghum, watermelon, etc.), the Agricultural Court may be consulted.
  • In most cases a dispute arises between the seller and buyer when the buyer of a crop does not his obligation after pretending to take a loss. In this case, the buyer may have a discount of 5%. If the court is satisfied that the buyer has met a loss then the discount may be 10%. The seller may not be forced to give more than that unless he so chooses.

Part Three: Land Rent

  • Land lease shall not be less than a five-year period.
  • The leaser (al-racawī) may not be forced to leave the land unless he does not fulfill his obligations, or abuses or neglects the land. ‘Does not fulfill his obligations’ means that the leaser has not paid rent or has not paid the furūq for the acbār. ‘Negligence’ means he has not taken care of the land and has not maintained its borders well. ‘Abuses’ means he has not repaired damage, or has stolen the crop, or has let his animals damage the land, or has lost his rights to irrigation. Al-racawī is the person who works the land and who has his own agreed-upon returns.
  • If the owner of the land renews the rent it shall be for another five year period.
  • If al-racawī returns in a damaged state the land in the middle of the agricultural season, the owner of the land shall have the right to sue him in the Agricultural Court and to ask for compensation.
  • Share-cropped land shall have the same rights as leased land. Regarding barāyit or neglected land, which becomes reclaimable after some years, it shall be agreed with al-racawī that after the period has finished the owner shall retain the right of disposition of his land.
  • If al-racawī wants to make additional changes in the land, he must have the written permission from the owner. In this case the owner shall either renew the rent or pay al-racawī what the latter has spent for these changes.

Part Four: Punishments

Spate (sayl) irrigation punishments

  • (a) If a person irrigates his land twice, he shall pay a fine estimated at 40 rupees for each acre he irrigates, and imprisonment for 10 days or payment of an additional 100 rupees.
    (b) If a person irrigates his land unintentionally because as he was late in closing off channels, he shall pay 20 rupees for each acre he irrigates.
  • (a) If any person is found to have damaged any lujacah or macagam and so deprives another person of his share of irrigation, that person shall pay a fine of 50 to 100 rupees, or imprisonment for ten to twenty days if he cannot pay the fine. He also shall compensate for the crop the person whom he prevented from receiving the water on his land, and shall also repair the damage he made to al-macagam. If the land is later irrigated, the price of the crop shall be subtracted from the compensation he paid.
    (b) If any person is found to have damaged a cubar branch, sharj or the head of the cubar, or to have made an opening in it, he shall pay as punishment the cost of all crops on these lands that were not irrigated due to this damage. He shall also repair the damage he made and pay 10 rupees for each acre, or be imprisoned for two months to three years. In this case His Majesty the Sultān shall nominate four judges in addition to the three judges of the Agricultural Court to decide the proper judgment of this case.
    (c) A person found to have damaged or to have made an opening in a canal in which is running water, he shall pay the equivalent of the reduction in yield, and he shall also pay 50 rupees for each acre, or face imprisonment for two months if he was not able to pay money.
  • (a) Every shaykh cubar, canal or mashacbah in whose area irrigation finished according to the plan or who is ordered to stop irrigation for any reason, and who allows to occur irrigation in areas not in the plan for that season shall pay a fine of 10 rupees for each acre they irrigate. If this action has repeated they shall be punished by imprisonment and fine, and shall be dismissed from work.
    (b) Every shaykh cubar or mashacbah who is found not to be honest in dividing the water and keeping the rights of citizens shall pay 10 rupees for each acre and be imprisoned for two months, and then shall be dismissed from work.
  • If water is divided between two ashruj and it happened that one part receives more than the other; if this difference was caused by disobedience to the shaykh’s orders, the person who disobeys the orders shall refund the cost of the crop and shall pay a fine of 20 rupees for each extra acre he irrigates or be imprisoned for one month if he is unable to pay the money.
  • If the racawī is unable to pay his obligations to the Sultanate, the owner may pay for him and receive later reimbursement from him when he returns the land.

Running water (ghayl) punishments

  • If any person diverts a ghayl from its original path or makes an obstacle to a ghayl by making a mashacbah or hurūr, and he irrigates land that should not be irrigated, he shall pay the cost of the crop, and a fine of 100 rupees or imprisonment for one month. This punishment is applicable to the landowner or the racawī, but if the cause is a worker or someone who wants to do a favor for the racawī or the landowner and who cannot pay the fine, the court shall imprison him for some time as punishment. Anyone who encourages him to do this deed shall share the punishment. If the water goes to irrigate other lands sharing with him, they also share the punishment. If these people do not know what he has done for them, they are not responsible and he alone shall bear the responsibility. He shall also pay the equivalence of the cost of the crop he has from all these lands irrigated by the ghayl. If he is a poor person and he cannot pay the money, then he shall be imprisoned for one to six months.
  • Anyone found to have damaged to a sharj assistant so that a ghayl was diverted to irrigate lands that were not supposed to be irrigated, he shall pay the cost of the crop of these lands, whether it is his own or not; and he shall repair the damage he made to the sharj and shall pay a fine of 100 rupees, and be imprisoned for 15 days or pay 150 rupees instead. If he is a poor person and he cannot pay money, he is entitled to the punishment mentioned in the previous item.
  • If the Agricultural Council gives orders that a ghayl be diverted to specific lands, and it happened that there is a lujacah or macagam that must to be moved for this, and a person refused to move the lujacah or macagam, the Sultanate shall remove it by order.


15The person who damages irrigation structures or who disobeys rules is called al-mucatadī, and the one who encourages him to do so is called al-muharrid. The later may be considered al-mucatadī if he benefits from the damage, in which case he shall share the same punishment. If al-muharrid does not benefit from the damage, the court shall decide how to blame him for the action.


1 al-Harbi, 1997 al-Harbi, Dalal bint Mukhled, 1997, The relation between Britain and the Sultanate of Lahj. Ph.D. Dissertation, Modern History, College of Education for Girls, al-Riyadh.

2 al-Abdali, Fadhl bin Ali Mohsen, 1980, The gift of time in news of Lahj and Aden Kings, Beirut, p. 292; al-Harbi, op. cit., 1997, pp. 14, 19-21, appendix I.

3 al-Harbi, op. cit., 1997, pp. 19-21, 25.

4 al-Abdali, op. cit., 1980, pp. 333-34.

5 al-Harbi, op. cit., 1997, p. 25.

6 al-Abdali, op. cit., 1980, p. 36.

7 al-Harbi, op. cit., 1997, p. 25.

8 al-Abdali, op. cit., 1980, p. 32; al-Harbi, op. cit., 1997, 14.

9 Fadhl Jabr Yamani, Senior Agricultural Extension Officer, personal communication.

10 Mahmoud, Abdel Habib Abd al-Sattar, 1988, Flood water, sources and methods of proper utilization in PDR Yemen, Engineering Education and Field Problems in PDR Yemen, A Seminar organized by the Faculty of Engineering - University of Aden. 19-20 November 1988, pp. 22-23..

11 Data from Mahmoud, op. cit. 1988.

12 Data from Mahmoud, op. cit., 1988.

13 This text is also presented in English translation by Maktari, A.M., 1971, Water Rights and Irrigation Practice in Lahj, Cambridge, pp. 70-82. The work also contains a useful glossary of technical terms.


Department of Agronomy and Agricultural Botany, Nasir’s Faculty of Agriculture, University of Aden

Department of Agronomy and Agricultural Botany, Nasir’s Faculty of Agriculture, University of Aden

Saeed A. Ba Angood (Traducteur)

Department of Plant Protection, Nasir’s College of Agriculture, University of Aden

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