Anthropology and Environment Society
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
The country of Yemen, on the southwestern corner of the Arabian Peninsula, is currently regarded by the UN as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world due to a four-year old war and blockade by its neighbors. When the bombs stop falling and reconstruction begins, Yemen will face a major environmental challenge: for the past several decades it has been running out of water. An unprecedented increase in population combined with over-extraction of groundwater resources for tubewell irrigation threaten not only the major economic livelihood related to agriculture, but survival itself. As an ethnographer, I studied the water resource use of highland Yemeni farmers in the late 1970s and consulted on agricultural development and environmental conservation projects in the two decades following. As a historian, I have analyzed the history of local Yemeni agriculture during the last millennium of the Islamic era. In this paper I highlight the indigenous agricultural knowledge, built up over centuries, and community self-help principles in rural areas that offer the potential for sustainable production and conservation of a resource with limited recharge. The major predicted impact of future climate change in Yemen is not for a decline in rainfall, but for more extreme events such as cyclones and major flooding combined with periods of drought. Thus, it is important that future development build on the accumulated experience within local ecological contexts at the same time that new water-harvesting and conservation techniques are introduced.