Alternatives to War

Yemenis are worried about water, not Al Qaeda

While the US continues wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, the Obama administration has also quietly ramped up military action in Yemen. In an attempt to take advantage of unrest in the country, the administration has increased a secret bombing campaign to go after Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The acceleration of the American campaign in recent weeks comes amid a violent conflict in Yemen that has left the government in Sana, a United States ally, struggling to cling to power. Yemeni troops that had been battling militants linked to Al Qaeda in the south have been pulled back to the capital, and American officials see the strikes as one of the few options to keep the militants from consolidating power.

On Friday, American jets killed Abu Ali al-Harithi, a midlevel Qaeda operative, and several other militant suspects in a strike in southern Yemen. According to witnesses, four civilians were also killed in the airstrike. Weeks earlier, drone aircraft fired missiles aimed at Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American-born cleric who the United States government has tried to kill for more than a year. Mr. Awlaki survived.

 

In addition to the questionable legality of such a move, and the danger of killing innocent civilians, this is another example of the US government leaning too heavily on military solutions and ignoring the civilian tools that could save lives and prevent violence on the ground.

Ken Sofer at the Center for American Progress reports on how the lack of access to water in Yemen is a far more pressing problem for most Yemenis [emphasis mine]:

While President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s autocratic rule and al-Qaeda’s violent acts make Yemen a difficult place to live, the devastating lack of water supplies for most Yemenis towers over al-Qaeda as the single greatest threat to their livelihood.

Yemen is already the most water poor country in the Middle East, but the problem is exacerbated by the country’s highly rural population, the fact that its most populous cities sit over a mile above sea level and the population’s addiction to the water-intensive drug khat, which consumes 37 percent of Yemen’s water supply each year. In 2007, Yemen’s Minister for Water and the Environment claimed the capital city of Sana’a was using water “ten times faster than nature is replenishing it.” This rapid rate of consumption puts Sana’a at risk of becoming the first world capital to completely run out of water

Tying our relationship with Yemen strictly to the threat of AQAP and increasing the number of drone strikes on terrorists while the vast majority of the population suffers from a humanitarian crisis makes us look completely out of touch with realities on the ground and, in the long run, puts our national security interests at greater risk.