By Christopher Boucek
Saturday, January 2, 2010; 12:46 AM
Yemen's problems are many, and some are already spreading beyond its borders. Security and stability are deteriorating. The population is growing rapidly. The economy is collapsing. There are few good options today; things will look worse tomorrow. Immediate and sustained international attention is needed to at least lessen the impact of some problems.
Yemen is a weak state with little history of central government control. The government's first priorities have been a civil war in the north and a growing secessionist movement in the south; lower on the list has been confronting al-Qaeda, which is now resurgent. The government does not fully control all territory, nor does it have the authority or capacity to adequately deliver social services in many rural areas. Organizations inspired or directed by al-Qaeda have sought refuge in undergoverned spaces.
Spending is not directed toward the root causes of instability but toward war costs, accelerating the economic collapse. Petroleum sales supply the bulk of government revenue, but oil reserves are shrinking and there has been little serious planning for a post-oil economy. A large deficit is forecast for next year, and foreign currency reserves are being spent at an alarming rate. Corruption is a major problem. Separately, mismanagement, rising consumption, increased urbanization and poor irrigation practices are contributing to dire water shortages. SanaaÖ post style may be the first capital in modern history to run out of water. The population, most of which is under 30, is expected to double in the next 20 years. Meanwhile, unemployment is on par with levels in the United States during the Depression.
Yemen is often considered a failing state. Its stability should be a critical concern for the United States. The international community needs an integrated and comprehensive approach that addresses both the immediate security issues and the underlying sources of instability and militancy. While military and counterterrorism operations are critical, long-term development assistance is also necessary.
The United States can support police reforms, help to professionalize the prison service, and assist in implementing effective counterterrorism laws. Coast guard and border officials also need quiet aid in controlling smuggling, trafficking and illicit migration. The international community needs to build local capacity in Yemen before it is too late.