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Where Did Yemen's Water Go?

There's lots of Yemen commentary flying around the Internet right now, and an environmental blog obviously isn't going to be anyone's go-to place for it, but via Kevin Drum, I was surprised to see how many of Yemen's problems are exacerbated by resource issues. Here's Richard Fontaine and Andrew Exum in the Los Angeles Times:

Yemen's economy depends heavily on oil production, and its government receives the vast majority of its revenue from oil taxes. Yet analysts predict that the country's petroleum output, which has declined over the last seven years, will fall to zero by 2017. The government has done little to plan for its post-oil future. Yemen's population, already the poorest on the Arabian peninsula and with an unemployment rate of 35%, is expected to double by 2035. An incredible 45% of Yemen's population is under the age of 15.

These trends will exacerbate large and growing environmental problems, including the exhaustion of Yemen's groundwater resources. Given that a full 90% of the country's water is used for agriculture, this trend portends disaster.

The Christian Science Monitor's Laura Kasinof reported on the water situation last November. Sanaa's wells are expected to dry out by 2015, partly due to illegal drilling, partly because 40 percent of the city's water is diverted for qat production, and partly because conservation rules are difficult to enforce. Now, water scarcity doesn't seem to be the main cause of violence in Yemen (insurgencies and separatist movements, plus the growth of Al Qaeda), but it's not easy to avoid failed statehood with trends like that.

(Flickr photo credit: Jim Shannon)