Author Archives: magalibm

No More Water by 2025?

by Magali Bonne-Moreau

Experts are warning that Yemenis living in the capital city, Sana’a, may no longer have access to water by 2025. Like many Middle Eastern countries, Yemen is an arid country that faces a problem of water scarcity*. Rain and groundwater are the main sources of water in Yemen since there are no rivers in the country. A recent New York Times article reports that if water management does not improve, it may lead to massive population displacement as well as job losses and declining incomes. These conclusions are based on a preliminary study produced by the consulting firm McKinsey and Company at the request of the Yemeni government.

Demand for water in Yemen has greatly increased over the past decades, due to a fast growing population that has doubled since 1975, and to the prevalence of the cultivation of qat, a mildly narcotic leaf that generates more income than other cash crops. Yemeni farms use about 90 percent of the country’s water. Thousands of wells have been drilled illegally to irrigate crops, and the growing need for water and inadequate irrigation techniques have resulted in the depletion of Yemen’s aquifers, with groundwater being extracted faster than it can be replenished by natural discharge. This has led to migration from rural to urban areas, as streams dry up and people can no longer farm on their land. It is important to note that Yemen is a major food importer, with around 90 percent of its food coming from abroad.

There have been different campaigns to educate Yemenis about sustainable water management options at the individual level, like the one in the video presented below, and the creation of Rowyan, a national mascot to encourage water conservation. Several projects related to sustainable water management in Sana’a and at the national level are being funded by international organisations and the EU, and water rationing is being carried out in most of the major cities.

A Geography Compass paper by Hassan et al. (2010) provides insights into the challenges and opportunities related to water management in an arid Arab country. Although the politics, geography and level of water scarcity differ, a comparative approach could be taken to draw parallels between scenarios in Palestine and Yemen. For readers who prefer a more theoretical approach to the sustainability of water use, another Geography Compass paper by Hauhs and Graefe (2009) presents perspectives from the social and natural sciences, and shows how both of these approaches can be combined to facilitate discussions amongst water managers with different backgrounds.

*Water scarce countries are defined by the World Bank as those that have less than 1,000 m3 of renewable internal freshwater resources available per capita in a year. Yemen is estimated to have about 200 m3 of water per capita, which is 3 percent of the global average of 6,750 m3.

Read more about water scarcity in Yemen in the New York Times green blog

Watch the Rowyan video

Read Hassan, M. A., Shahin, K., Klinkenberg, B., McIntyre, G., Diabat, M., Al-Rahman Tamimi, A. and Nativ, R. (2010), Palestinian Water II: Climate Change and Land Use. Geography Compass, 4: 139–157

Read Hauhs, M. and Graefe, O. (2009), Sustainable Use of Water from Natural and Social Science Perspectives. Geography Compass, 3: 2025–2044.

Watch “Yemen – Water War” by What’s Up Productions

Human Development and Inequalities

by Magali Bonne-Moreau

What do Ethiopia and Cambodia have in common? Aside from their complicated political histories, these two countries have made great improvements in education and public health over the past 40 years, in spite of low incomes. Their progress places them among the “top movers” in a list of 135 countries, according to new indicators used to compile the latest Human Development Index (HDI), with Ethiopia in 11th place, and Cambodia in 15th place.

Since 1970, the world has experienced significant overall improvements in living standards and access to health and education, but there have been disparities, both globally and within countries, according to the 2010 edition of the UN Human Development Report, published earlier this month. These conclusions are based on a systematic review of human development opportunities and challenges at national and global levels over the past 40 years. The additional indicators used to determine the new HDI confirm that progress is possible even in countries with limited resources – in other words, there is no direct link between economic growth and progress in human development.

While these results are extremely insightful and deserve to be examined in detail, there is another noteworthy aspect of the 20th anniversary edition of the Human Development Report. Three new human development indices have been introduced to take into account growing concerns about inequality, gender equity, and the multidimensional nature of poverty.

The original Human Development Index  is a composite index developed in 1990 to measure the level of development of a country by combining indicators of life expectancy, educational attainment and income. The Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index (IHDI) considers the effect of inequality on human development by looking at disparities in the HDI indicators.

According to Jonathan Glennie of the Guardian, “One of the main findings of the first 10 years of the Millennium Development Goals is that inequality matters… Equality matters as an end in itself, and it matters as one of the quickest means to reduce absolute poverty.” As geographers, we also have a role to play in the way inequality is addressed and researched.  For those of you who are interested in learning more, Alan Gilbert discusses this comprehensively in a Geography Compass paper entitled “Inequality and why it matters”.

Read Gilbert, A., 2007. Inequality and Why It Matters. Geography Compass, 1(3), pp.422-447

Read the Guardian article by Jonathan Glennie

Read the UNDP Human Development Report 2010 – The Real Wealth of Nations: Pathways to Human Development

Foreign land investments or ‘land grabs’?

by Magali Bonne-Moreau

Thirty million hectares of farmland are lost every year as a result of environmental degradation, urbanisation, conversion to industrial use, and speculation on farmland, also known as ‘land grabbing,’ according to a recent report by Olivier de Schutter, the U.N. Expert on the Right to Food. ‘Land grabs’ describe the acquisition of large tracts of arable land in developing countries by cash-rich countries with inadequate land and water resources, such as the Gulf States, or with large populations and food security concerns, such as India or China, or for projects that seek to mitigate climate change, like the REDD scheme, as well as for biofuel production.

In the past, foreign acquisition of land in developing countries was often associated with private enterprises involved in cash-crop schemes. Following the 2007 global food price crisis, land deals have increased as a result of food security concerns; some of these are presented in an IFPRI policy brief (2009). Saudi Arabia is used as a case study by Lippman (2010) to discuss the issues around ‘investment in food supply’ by a country that is highly dependent on imported food. In contrast, a Guardian article (2010) presents the African perspective: as a result of these land investments, many farmers in countries with weak governance and a lack of formally recognised land tenure find themselves landless, further marginalised, and in a situation of food vulnerability. This is a strong paradox. In Ethiopia, more than 13 million people need food aid, but at least 3 million hectares of its most fertile land are provided to foreign investors for agriculture. In Madagascar, although the deal fell through in 2009, the South Korean company Daewoo offered to purchase nearly half of the country’s arable land to grow corn and palm oil.

The issues are complex. If done responsibly, foreign land investments could promote local employment, build agricultural capacity and increase crop yields. However, problems of dispossession, displacements, environmental degradation and local food vulnerability are widespread in many countries involved in these deals.

Read Access to Land and the Right to Food, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food presented at the 65th General Assembly of the United Nations, 21 October 2010.

Read Lippman’s article (2010): Saudi Arabia’s Quest for “Food Security”. Middle East Policy. 17(1), pp. 90-98

Read The Guardian’s article (7 March 2010): “How food and water are driving a 21st-century African land grab”

Look at the IFPRI table (2009): “Land Grabbing by Foreign Investors in Developing Countries: Risks and Opportunities”

For a larger overview of the topic, read Jarosz (2009) “Energy, Climate Change, Meat, and Markets: Mapping the Coordinates of the Current World Food Crisis” in Geography Compass 3(6), pp. 2065-2083