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Yemen: The Problems We’re Not Hearing About

Yemen is plagued by massive security problems. It is a hub for domestic and international Islamist terrorism, housing some of al Qaeda’s most experienced and determined operatives, is currently the host of an intense drone-strike campaign by the United States, is passing through a volatile governmental transition (the UN Security Council issued a resolution yesterday threatening sanctions and calling for the cessation of hostilities from armed groups), and according to Nancy Lindborg at USAID, currently counts more than 550,000 internally displaced peoples.

But as with many countries in the Middle East and North Africa, there are a set of environmental and resource issues that threaten instability even further. In Yemen, water insecurity, in the form of water shortages, is the main threat. According to a recent piece by Frontline, these shortages are the result of a complex interplay of unsustainable water use (90% of the nation’s water is used for agriculture, and a large chunk of that for the highly water-intensive “qat” crop), climate change which is expected to increase droughts and floods, rapid population growth, and a fragile government.

If the United States has an interest in stabilizing Yemen for the long-term, counter-terrorism operations will not be enough. Helping Yemen address its water security problems, including the impact of climate change, will be paramount, along with providing much-needed humanitarian relief. The recent Intelligence Community Assessment on Global Water Security, requested by the U.S. State Department and coordinated by the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, is a recognition of this critical security issue, and can act as an initial impetus and guide for action in Yemen, and other nations with similar vulnerabilities.

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