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Yemen’s many problems could soon render the country ungovernable, enabling the lawlessness in the Horn of Africa to leap across the Gulf of Aden, says Trends magazine.
March 11, 2010 10:13 by Olivia Cuthbert
Zone of lawlessness. Although less acute, secessionist problems in the south are a further drain on government resources. South Yemen remained an independent state governed by the Yemen Socialist Party (YSP) from the end of British rule in 1967 until 1990, when it was reunited with the Republic of Yemen.
Fueled by the YSP, many southern Yemenis complain that the Sana’a government is abusing the unity agreement, citing discrimination and unfair distribution of resources as justification for renewed independence. Frequent protests and demonstrations since 2007 have led to the region’s growing reputation as “a zone of lawlessness,” contributing to mounting fears that unless tensions abate, Yemen could become a failed state like its unruly neighbor Somalia.
Continued instability in the country could, according to a Chatham House analyst Ginny Hill, “expand a lawless zone stretching from northern Kenya through Somalia and the Gulf of Aden, to Saudi Arabia.” The government retains its hold over Yemen by temporarily silencing the loudest voices with money generated from the country’s oil and gas reserves.
Yemen is the poorest Arab state and one of the world’s least developed countries, ranking 140th out of 182 countries in a 2009 United Nations Human Development Index. It relies heavily on depleted oil resources which constitute about 90 percent of its exports. However, the World Bank has warned that the country’s oil and gas revenues will plummet over the next two years and experts agree that reserves will completely run out in the next 10 years.
The country is also crippled by food and water shortages. Hunger is an increasing problem and, according to the UN, almost 40 percent of the population is malnourished. Yemen is obliged to import most of its food, while the growing of khat, a mild narcotic, appropriates almost 30 percent of the water supply.
Strings attached. With the highest birth rate in the Middle East and the population set to double over the next 20 years, Yemen is sorely in need of international aid, but until recently it has remained a remarkably low priority for western development assistance.
Western benefactors complain that the Yemeni government has misused aid in the past and the US is consequently withholding the $70 million donation it pledged at the London Summit until the Yemeni government commits to stringent aid distribution conditions.