By: Jack Hipkins
Yemen could be the next huge destabilizing factor in the Middle East. Despite airstrikes conducted by a Saudi-led coalition of Arab countries this week, Houthi rebels have continued to make territorial gains throughout the country, as the sitting president Abdu Rabu Mansour’s position looks increasingly tenuous.
Yemen is a country that has been plagued by instability for many years, however political and social unrest are only a small part of Yemen’s problem, as a larger threat looms in the future.
The terrifying fact for Yemen is that it is running out of oil and water, whose murky combination is the lifeblood of this poverty stricken country. Experts have warned that the capital of Yemen, Sana’a, is on track to be the first city in the world, which may run out of water in the next 10 years. In fact, “each Yemeni only has access to about 140 cu. m (cubic meters) of water per year,” compared with the Middle East average of ~1,000cu. m. per year. Experts have concluded that unless drastic measures are organized soon, overuse of the countries water resources will precipitate a water crisis in the country.
In addition oil production is falling. Reaching a peak production of 450,000 barrels per day in 2001, Yemeni oil production has followed a gradual decline ever since, and recent report by the World Bank predicted that Yemen will run out of oil in 12 years. With oil production making up 92% of Yemen’s exports, and 75% of state revenue, Yemen is facing a crisis that threatens to unravel its entire economic and social structure.
On their own the impending exhaustion of these resources would be a formidable challenge to the Yemeni government, and should merit the entire weight of its energies. However faced with civil and social unrest, hardly anything is being done to address these issues. Lacking a solution, these shortages could likely precipitate the complete collapse of the Yemen economy resulting in a collapse of its social structure and a failed state. Such factors are the breeding ground of Islamic extremist groups, and would likely cause a massive refugee crisis.
With increasing sectarian violence, and an impending civil war Yemen seems farther than ever from dealing with these problems. The Arab League must work together to focus on addressing these underlying problems. Although they have assembled a coalition to deal with the Houthi rebel advance, they have yet to organize a cohesive response to the issue of Yemen’s approaching water and oil crisis. Upon the conclusion of the current political crisis, the Arab League must engage with whatever government exists in Yemen to find workable solutions to these impending resource crises. It is to their interest to address these issues, as a failed state in Yemen with a massive refugee problem is ultimately the kind of factor that will cause a general destabilization to the Arabic Peninsula.