Writing for Newsweek, James Fergusson, an award-winning journalist and specialist in global water-stress, has warned that “Yemen is tearing itself apart over water shortage.”
James reports that Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) – who in 2010 were deemed by the CIA as “the most potentially dangerous franchise on the planet” – have become champion exploiters of the country’s chronic water shortage. Significant support for AQAP has been achieved not just by providing villagers with water, but also by helping them to dig wells and install other vital water infrastructure. Worryingly, James explains that the “Sana’a government is miles behind AQAP in its appreciation of the problem.”
James notes that “this activity goes far beyond social work. In an impoverished farming nation, where over half the population still lives off the land, access to water, and the ability to irrigate crops, is often a matter of life or death.” He demonstrates how the problem of water shortage is compounded by:
- Extraordinary population growth, from five million in 1960, to 26 million today, to a projected 40 million by 2030.
- Ineffective government spending on the military, coupled with budget cuts to the water and environmental sector.
- Farmers switching from terrace to groundwater irrigation.
- The drilling of unlicensed boreholes to irrigate qat crops (the profitable, amphetamine-like chewing leaf to which Yemen, as a nation, is addicted.)
The wars of the future, it is often said, will be fought not over oil but over water. James fears that if a new strategy isn’t developed for managing the nation’s dwindling resource, “Yemen [will offer] us a glimpse of the coming apocalypse.”
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