Yemen and Water

Our national discussion about what to do with prisoners currently held in Guantanamo has focused a lot of attention of late on Yemen, the Arab world’s oil-poor sibling.

It is increasingly seen as a haven for the sort of bad guys we, as a nation, worry about. Is the story of Yemen’s problems really a story of water problems? Laura Kasinof caught my eye with a piece on this last month, which seems all the more relevant in light of all the Yemen coverage I’ve seen recently:

While domestic insurgencies chip away at the control of Yemen’s central government and an Al Qaeda branch gains strength in regions beyond the government’s reach, another crisis — one that affects Yemen’s entire population — has the potential to contribute to the country’s instability and potential trajectory toward failure.

Yemen is running out of water – fast.

But the water crisis and the rise of militancy are not unrelated perils said Abdulrahman Al Eryani, Yemen’s minister of Water and Environment, in an interview. Much of the country’s rising militancy, he argues, is a conflict over resources.

“They manifest themselves in very different ways: tribal conflicts, sectarian conflicts, political conflicts. Really they are all about sharing and participating in the resources of the country, either oil, or water and land,” said Minister Eryani. “Some researchers from Sanaa University had very alarming figures. They said that between 70-80 percent of all rural conflicts in Yemen are related to water.”

I’m reminded of my October conversations with Howard Passell at Sandia Labs, about which I wrote this:

Environmental problems, from water shortages, pollution and climate change to disease and food scarcity, are at the core of national security, Passell argues.