START A PETITION 27,000,000 members: the world's largest community for good
Dec 20, 2011

(Photo courtesy of Ammar Abd Rabbo)
By Suzanne York,, December 20, 2011

Recently I came across a list of the world's fastest growing cities and urban areas, as reported by the City Mayors Foundation, a U.K. think tank which encourages innovative and sustainable solutions to urban issues.

I was rather shocked that the arid city of Sana'a, Yemen was third on the list (after Beihai, China and Ghaziabad, India).

Water is a critical issue in many countries, especially in unstable countries like Yemen, where experts have warned that Sana'a could be the first capital in the world to run out of water. The current population of 24 million people is expected to double in 20 years. Already the average Yemeni survives on one-fifth of what the World Health Organization considers to be an adequate amount of water.

"The water we are drilling around the capital is now down to the water which fell on Earth 8,000 years ago," said Saleh al-Dubby, director of the World Bank-funded Sana'a Basin Water Management Project stated in 2010. Lester Brown, in World on the Edge, writes that the 2 million residents of Sana'a only have tap water available once every four days. Some wells are a half a mile deep.

Compounding the problem is an increase in the city's population due to rural-urban migration, plus a heavy reliance by Yemenis on qat, a water-intensive, semi-narcotic plant chewed daily. Growing qat consumes 40 percent of all Yemen's irrigation water.

Curbing qat will be an uphill battle. Interestingly, globalization may be more of a contributing factor than culture. In 2009 the New York Times reported that traditional agriculture declined when Yemen was flooded with cheap foreign grain, and farmers replaced food crops with the more profitable qat.

Yemen has a total fertility rate of 5.3 (the world average is 2.5), and 45 percent of its population is age 15 or younger. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) states that early marriage, a high adolescent fertility rate, and low use of family planning tools and concepts contribute to the relatively high total fertility rate.

Yemen is facing a myriad of serious problems beyond rapid population growth, from high poverty levels to limited access to land to desertification and soil erosion. Add water shortages, and you have a strong case for even further political and economic instability in a country currently in a high state of unrest and a stronghold of terrorism.

It's hard enough to deal with just one of these issues, much less all the crises confronting Yemenis. Short term solutions include halting illegal tapping of wells, more efficient and sustainable methods of irrigation, a return to traditional agricultural practices such as terracing and rainwater harvesting, local control of water, and financial support for desalination plants.

In the longer term, explosive population growth can be halted by empowering women and families to make better informed and culturally acceptable reproductive health choices, supported by better access to family planning tools. According to the UNFPA, “gender equity is recognized under Yemen's constitution, but social indicators indicate the relative status of Yemeni women to be among the lowest in the world with rates of female genital cutting among the highest observed”.

It is in the world's strategic interest to help Yemen come to terms with its water crisis. Displaced people - “water refugees” - can only add to the political instability and worsen environmental problems. International funds need to be invested wisely, in resource management, poverty alleviation, womens' rights, and youth education, especially in terms of family planning.

The high rate of population growth will only exacerbate Yemen's problems. But policies focused on empowering women and youth will help lower fertility rates, and provide one answer for easing the severity of Yemen's multiple challenges.

Suzanne York is a writer with the Institute for Population Studies (IP/

Visibility: Everyone
Posted: Tuesday December 20, 2011, 12:08 pm
Tags: water family change growth sustainability climate population planning [add/edit tags]

Group Discussions
Or, log in with your
Facebook account:


Suzanne Y.
female , single
Berkeley, CA, USA
No shares

(6 comments  |  discussions )
Beautiful white peacock

Mar 31
Blog: How to Extend the Life of your TRIAD Boilers by Kayleigh L.
(0 comments  |  discussions ) — \\nHow to Extend the Life of your TRIAD Boilers \\r\\n \\r\\nCorliss Engine Review\\r\\nEvery user desires to prolong the life of a unit. TRIAD assists their clients in achieving this important objective by informing them of ways they can avoid problems... more
Feb 27
Blog: Dr Oz Weight Loss - The 100% Natural And Very Efficient Diet Pill by Debra S.
(0 comments  |  discussions ) — \\nYes, Dr. Oz called Garcinia Cambogia Extract (HCA) the Holy Grail of Weight Loss. He went on to say, “Anytime I see a scientist get this excited about something like Garcinia Cambogia Extract and when I looked through some of this research and... more
Blog: My Favorite Websites by krysta I.
(0 comments  |  discussions ) — \\nIFAW:\\r\\nOCEANA:\\r\\nPETA:\\r\\nEARTH 911:\\r\\nANI MALs ASIA:\\r\\n \\r\\n\\r\\n\\n more
Feb 21
Blog: testing one two three by Geoff M.
(0 comments  |  discussions ) — hello world more
Blog: Garcinia Cambogia Reviews From Actual People Garcinia Pure Extract Is A Huge Success February 20 by Dany M.
(0 comments  |  0 discussions ) — \\nGarcinia Cambogia Reviews From Actual People Garcinia Pure Extract Is A Huge Success February 20\\r\\nGarcinia Cambogia System The Dr. Oz Lose Weight Quick Process Without Having Side Effects\\r\\nHe went on to say, “At any time I see a researcher... more
Content and comments expressed here are the opinions of Care2 users and not necessarily that of or its affiliates.