GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Paper Proposal Text :
Yemen faces many political, social and economic challenges which will be discussed in some details during this workshop. The impact of climate change presents further serious and fundamental constraints for its population’s survival and development in coming decades. While certain natural resource management issues, water in particular, are already making headlines, this has not yet brought about an adequate response from decision makers. In the context of a meeting primarily focused on short and medium term political issues, it is also essential to bear in mind some of the fundamental long term issues which are unfortunately likely to worsen in coming decades. Although Yemeni politicians have limited influence over climate change they could do a lot more to mitigate its impact. However their approach should take a critical attitude to the new global science models and data sets as well as to the policies of international development funding.

The paper will review the main available studies and programmes concerned with climate change in Yemen, examine current framings of the impact of forecast changes on the country’s development in coming decades, aiming to focus on the convergence and synergy of social, economic and political factors. Yemen is only a minor contributor to climate change due to its low use of energy and its comparatively small population but, as is the case elsewhere, its population is likely to suffer more due to the high rate of poverty with a high percentage of rural people primarily dependent on agriculture and primary sector economic production.

Using existing references and my own work over 40 years in Yemen’s rural areas, the paper will first overview earlier trends and forecast developments relevant to the long-term sustainability of life in Yemen, including
- Worsening water shortages and their impact on rural as well as urban life
- The likelihood of further constraints to agricultural production and the availability of basic necessities due to the increasingly frequent sequences of droughts and floods
- The country’s increased dependence on imports for its staples and thus additional pressure on its limited hard currency reserves
- Continued rapid population growth
- increased demands on the limited natural resources, including water and land
- the limited emergence of economic livelihoods not based on direct exploitation of natural resources, such as services and some industries

Until recently neither Government nor foreign aid agencies gave sufficient attention to these issues. It is only since the turn of the century that the importance and dangers presented by these factors have been included in the national political discourse. Even now, this discourse is primarily focused on issues of the distribution of power and gives far too little attention to the major issues of development and livelihoods of the majority of Yemen’s population, who are either poor or close to the poverty line. Nor did the broadly advertised policy dialogue between Yemen and its ‘development partners address this fundamental synergy. Until the early 2000s, funding agencies supported development policies focused on short term objectives which fitted neatly into the Washington Consensus philosophy. To a considerable extent, these gave priority to investments and activities which positively contributed to reducing the long-term sustainability of Yemen’s ecology and its ability to support its population.

While there are now attempts to address the socio-economic implications of climate change, the paper will examine their significance, the extent to which they represent a real change in government and aid agency policies and the likelihood of their having a meaningful impact on the fundamental long-term crisis which threatens the very survival of the country. The paper will also look at how the scientific framing of possible climate change, and related adaptation and resilience ideas, fits with current local governance of resources, or may be ‘re-imaging it’ in the language of these global debates.

The core discussion of the paper will then focus on the social tensions resulting from the synergy of these factors, their role and importance among the many reasons behind the worsening security situation in the country. This includes an assessment of the different forms of insecurity which are affecting Yemen’s population as well as the relationship between these tensions and the presence of armed fundamentalist movements. Security aspects will be discussed not only with respect to the threat posed by international Islamist groups but also with respect to the daily security problems faced by ordinary Yemenis as a result of increased petty banditry, and where this leaves collective and individual efforts to provide basic needs of water and livelihoods.

The paper will conclude with suggestions of activities and approaches which could improve livelihoods and maintain sustainable resource management institutions in coming decades despite climate uncertainties.