At Heart of Yemen's Conflicts: Water Crisis

By Kasinof, Laura | The Christian Science Monitor, November 5, 2009 | Go to article overview

At Heart of Yemen's Conflicts: Water Crisis


Kasinof, Laura, The Christian Science Monitor


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."

Khalid Al-Thour, a geology professor at Sanaa University, adds that recent reports have indicated that Sanaa's wells will run dry by 2015 at current water-usage rates.

In their 2009 Failed States Index, Foreign Policy magazine topped their analysis with a sobering assessment of Yemen as "a perfect storm of state failure," including disappearing oil and water reserves.

The World Bank considers Yemen "one of the most water-scarce countries in the world" where only 125 cubic meters of water are available yearly per capita compared to the world average of 2,500 cubic meters. Just 46 percent of Yemen's rural population has direct access to an adequate water supply and the number is only slighter better in cities, according to the German Development Service (GDS), which is working with the Yemeni government to improve water management.

Public access to water is particularly sparse in Taiz, Yemen's third-largest city, where access to public water tanks is allowed only once every 45 days. When households run out of their personal water supply they have the option to buy water from private companies but in Yemen, where 42 percent of the population lives beneath the poverty line, many rely on charity from mosques to meet their needs, says Dierk Schlutter, coordinator for water and environment for GDS. …

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