It’s hard to fathom the reality of an entire country running out of water, but that seems to be the case in Yeman.
Experts cited by CNN say Yemen could be the first nation to completely run out of water in a few years, a prospect that does not bode well for its young population of 24 million that is expected to double in 20 years, or anyone worried about the rising influence (and ability to get bombs on planes) of an al Qaeda branch in one of the Middle East’s poorest nations.
In Sana’a, which could be the world’s first capital city to go dry, the population is growing at a rate of 7% per year as people flee from the parched outer reaches of the country. Part of the problem is qat, an addictive plant like chewed by about 75% of men in Yemen that takes a whole lot of water to grow. In places where vineyards used to be, farmers now are growing the more lucrative qat, which uses five times the amount of water as grapes but can be harvested and sold relatively quickly after it’s planted.
Farmers’ ambition to better their lot is more than understandable in a nation where five million people — over a fifth of the population — go hungry each day. And though Yemen’s qat farmers are estimated to now be using some 40% of the nation’s domestic water supply, they are hardly the only actors in this looming crisis. Yemen’s water table is falling about 6.6 feet per year, yet the central government has been ineffective at managing the piecemeal drilling of water wells (the government itself estimates an astonishing 99% of water extraction in Yemen is unlicensed) or regulating water management in more farflung parts of the country.
Water scarcity is not a problem systemic to developing nations. In the US, parts of the Southeast and Southwest could run dry in the coming years.