“For the first time in its exceedingly long history, Yemen now threatens the outside world. It does so in two principal ways.
First, even before the current political upheaval began there on Jan. 15, violence out of Yemen already impinged on Westerners. As President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s weak government controlled only a small part of the country, violence had emerged both near to Yemen, such as attacks on American and French ships, and distant from it, like Anwar al-Awlaki’s incitement to terrorism in Texas, Michigan and New York. With Mr. Saleh’s apparent abdication on June 4, when he traveled to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment, the central government’s writ will further diminish, leading to yet more attacks being planned inside Yemen for execution outside the country.
But it’s the second danger that staggers my mind: An unprecedented emptying out of Yemen, with millions of unskilled and uninvited refugees, first in the Middle East, then in the West – many of them Islamist – demanding economic asylum.
The problem begins with an increasingly cataclysmic water shortfall. Gerhard Lichtenthaeler, a specialist on this topic, wrote in 2010 how in many of the country’s mountainous areas, available drinking water – usually drawn from a spring or a cistern – is down to less than one quart per person per day. Its aquifers are being mined at such a rate that groundwater levels have been falling by 10 to 20 feet annually, threatening agriculture and leaving major cities without adequate safe drinking water. Sanaa could be the first capital city in the world to run dry.
And not just Sanaa: As a London Times headline put it, Yemen “could become first nation to run out of water.” Nothing this extreme has happened in modern times, although similar patterns of drought have developed in Syria and Iraq.”
Yemen…. economic and water constraints. One key to geopolitical movement in this Middle Eastern country.