On Water

It isn't a secret that one of Yemen's most pressing, apocolyptic problems is not any of the rebellions, nor even the economy (though it is related to it), but rather a natural, literally elemental crisis. (That's an awkward sentence, but I don't much feel like fixing it) Yemen is running out of water. Nations have had wars and rebellions, economies have collapsed, and places have survived these. Not always, of course, but it isn't beyond the pale. No state, no matter how strong, can survive without water. All of Yemen's problems and potential solutions are meaningless without a resolution to this problem. This is something to consider.

And, so, NPR ran a segment on the issue on All Things Considered (audio is not available as of posting). Overall, I think it was a very good story, pointing to well-intentioned policy failures (such as underground drilling rather than rainwater capture), as well as, inevitbly, qat. But while many stories just focus on how they "use water for drugs!", this goes out of its way to point out that in a desperately poor country, qat is an immediate source of cash.

Small farmer Abdullah al-Jidri, sporting a softball-sized wad of khat leaves in his left cheek, says many farmers would be happy to grow fruits, vegetables and grains, but they can't live without the cash brought in by khat.

"With food crops we have to wait for a year or longer to get a harvest, and if there's a problem you won't get a crop. But with khat, you just put some water on it and you have leaves in a month's time that you can sell immediately. It's a cash crop," he says.

When asked if he's heard that the government wants farmers to stop growing khat to save water, Jidri and his brother laugh.

"Don't believe the officials. They ask us to grow more khat for them to chew," he says.


Softball-sized is presumably 12-inch, not Chicago-style 16. That would be a titanic feat.

It also points out the difficulty of focusing attention on the problem. One thing Greg and I try to talk a lot about is how the immediaecy of the rebellions and the economy makes it difficult to concentrate on slow-developing, long-brewing disasters, especially demography and the environment. Well, we still have water, and right now there are people blowing things up: which should we focus on. There are steps being taken, but this is reaching event horizon. The can gets kicked down the road.

Fixing this issue, and not merely staving it off, will require a huge amount of work and international cooperation, as well as some national unity- there will need to be massive irrigation channels in order to disperse water. But, of course, there isn't national unity, and there will not be any if the problem gets worse. I wish there could be some optimism here, on a Friday evening, but sadly there is not. It isn't past the point of no return yet, but, as with so much else in Yemen, it is hurtling headlong toward it.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Want to age gracefully? A new study says live meaningfully

Thinking your life is worthwhile is correlated with a variety of positive outcomes.

YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • A new study finds that adults who feel their lives are meaningful have better health and life outcomes.
  • Adults who felt their lives were worthwhile tended to be more social and had healthier habits.
  • The findings could be used to help improve the health of older adults.
Keep reading Show less
Promotional photo of Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister on Game of Thrones
Surprising Science
  • It's commonly thought that the suppression of female sexuality is perpetuated by either men or women.
  • In a new study, researchers used economics games to observe how both genders treat sexually-available women.
  • The results suggests that both sexes punish female promiscuity, though for different reasons and different levels of intensity.
Keep reading Show less

This 1997 Jeff Bezos interview proves he saw the future coming

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com, explains his plan for success.

Technology & Innovation
  • Jeff Bezos had a clear vision for Amazon.com from the start.
  • He was inspired by a statistic he learned while working at a hedge fund: In the '90s, web usage was growing at 2,300% a year.
  • Bezos explains why books, in particular, make for a perfect item to sell on the internet.
Keep reading Show less