Thursday, February 24, 2011

YEMEN - A discontent that does not date from yesterday

The people of Yemen "Arabia Felix", are deeply unhappy. The causes of their discomfort add up to an avalanche of problems, mostly structural. The main symptoms of this growing discontent unfortunately often take the form of outbreaks of violence. Solving these problems will be neither easy nor quick and will probably cost money, but it is crucial.

Yemen faces two problems Malthusian: a rapid decline in its resources and high population growth, under-employed. The insurgency Houthis northern rebellion of the Southern Movement, and even murderous operations of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, are less dangerous for the country that these two phenomena servants.

Two resources will begin to fail in Yemen: oil and water. The first - which has never been abundant - was the main foreign exchange earner for the country, the poorest of Arabia. The second (by two monsoons annually) earned him the epithet of "happy" Saudi but not enough to cover the needs of the population.

While 19 of the 21 aquifer systems across the country have reached a critical level, Sana'a could be the first capital of the world victim of dryness. A 3.4% population growth of Yemen is one of the highest in the world and two thirds of the population are under 25 years. Due to limited resources, few people manage to train enough to get the few jobs available in the country or from abroad.

These demographic pressures are compounded by the exodus of rural people seeking work. Masses of people poorly trained and under-employed and were concentrated in major cities where their presence has increased pressure on water supplies. Aid for the purchase of diesel seemed an obvious way to enable the people to benefit from oil money.

These grants will unfortunately not the right people. Their main beneficiaries are the poor (who can not afford to buy diesel-powered machines), but the powerful water extraction companies, which have used this aid to empty the reserves of water. One major consequence of this system was the increase in the consumption of khat in the country.

Many commentators rightly regard the cultivation of qat (allowed by the monsoon rains) as problematic and notes that many Yemenis spend too much time cultivating qat instead of food. Most of these critics argue, however, the moral judgments against a drug "narcotic" and propose solutions that are both simplistic and unrealistic.

Those who propose to replace the culture of qat by that coffee does not take into account the slight differences in climate necessary for these two plants, or the instability of the global coffee market. Similarly, those who suggest to produce our food instead of importing it totally ignores the economies of scale (not to mention subsidies) enjoyed by farmers in the American Great Plains from a production model on narrow terraces cultivated donkey.

The advantage of qat (which can transfer money from cities to the countryside) and the disadvantage of coffee (which allows intermediaries to exploit the seasonal dependence of small farmers) are naturally forgotten.

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