Could aid dependency undermine efforts to bring stability to Yemen? Amid growing instability associated with acute water scarcity, dwindling oil revenue, continued calls for secession from the South, and conflict in the North between al-Houthi-led militias and government soldiers, many Yemenis – at least 175,000 – have been internally displaced and taken refuge in temporary camps where they may find a modicum of relief with access to food, water, and other aid rations. And given the government’s inability to provide, in many cases, the most basic public services, many of the displaced people are not looking to go home – at least any time soon.
In Yemen, unsustainable natural resource management and agricultural practices and a dependence on oil revenue to sustain otherwise expensive water extraction may be precursors to more extensive environmental collapse that could undermine Yemen’s economic development and stability if the government does not improve its environmental stewardship. Already these issues have led, in part, to low-level conflict and left many Yemenis without access to food, water, and other vital resources to sustain their own livelihoods. These dynamics are part of what’s driven many Yemenis from their homes to internally displaced person (IDP) camps.
In honor of Yemen Week here on the blog we wanted to to bring to your attention an oldie but a goodie, a super interesting 5 Questions with Someone Interesting over water issues and Yemen between Natural Security blogger Will Rogers and Gregory Johnsen, former Fulbright Fellow in Yemen and Ph.D. candidate in Near Eastern Studies at Princeton.
Without any further introduction, let's get to the questions. . . again.
Yemen is becoming one of the most closely watched countries in the Middle East; ranked 18th in Foreign Policy’s “Failed State Index.” And one of the issues that we have been curious about here in the Natural Security program is how Yemen’s water crisis is combining with existing trends in Yemen to undermine stability and contribute to violence. I recently spoke with Gregory Johnsen, a Ph.D. candidate in Near Eastern studies at Princeton University and a former Fulbright Fellow in Yemen, who spoke with me about his experiences and helped me better understand the interplay between Yemen’s water scarcity and the myriad security challenges there.
Johnsen has written for a variety of publications including Foreign Policy, The American Interest, the Christian Science Monitor, the Boston Globe and West Point's CTC Sentinel. He is also a co-contributor to Waq al-Waq, a blog that offers nuanced analyses of Yemen’s history and political affairs.
Rogers: As a Fulbright Fellow you spent your time in Yemen and were able to see firsthand how severe water scarcity engages existing issues, such as a weak central government and rising population growth, to contribute to instability and violence. Then you returned and co-authored this great piece in Foreign Policy back in February aptly titled “The Wells Run Dry.” I’m curious – how have you seen the situation in Yemen change since you published this article?