A change in the weather doesn’t explain Yemen

Posted on Tue 11/23/2010 by


Andrew BoltBy Andrew Bolt

So, let me see if I’ve got this right. The upsurge in al Qaeda activity in Yemen can be put down to…..Climate Change. What the!…..TonyfromOz.

Here we go again, focusing on the fashionable rather than the real.

Australian ABC TV’s Lateline current affairs program host Leigh Sales last night gave the friendliest of interviews to Britain’s Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti, who has been diverted from his real job to act instead as the United Kingdom’s Special Envoy on Climate and Energy Security.

Observe the example both choose to illustrate what he’s up to when he talks of having to tackle “the implications of climate change … (on) the likelihood of conflict” :

LEIGH SALES: OK, so if we can take a case study and use the example of Yemen, which is near the top of the global security agenda because of its instability and a strong Al Qaeda presence, how is climate change relevant to Yemen’s security?

NEIL MORISETTI: Well if you look at where – the stresses that Yemen are facing, in addition to what you’ve talked about there are water shortages etc., and that places challenges on the population, it places challenges on the government.

If you add further complications to that by the fact that the impact of climate change could well be felt there – you could accentuate those water shortage problems for example – then that adds greater challenges and greater risk to the possibility of climate change… To a greater or lesser extent important, and therefore the risks come as loss of land, loss of livelihood, people looking to alternatives, but also from that loss of land, the potential risk of – or the possibility of migration, both of within countries and between countries and the pressures that might add.

So Yemen can be explained as a trick of the climate.

It’s true, like the admiral and like the Australian premiers in the post below, Yemeni politicians eagerly bought the climate change fear-mongering, so useful for explaining why you are not to blame:

Like many countries, the agricultural sector in Yemen faces serious challenges as a result of changes in rainfall patterns, and the extended low temperature seasons seen in recent years, say experts.

In Yemen climate change is dramatically affecting three areas – water resources, agriculture and coastal areas. A March 2008 UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report on the Near East said: “Yemen is particularly at risk because of its existing low income levels, rapidly growing population and acute water shortage.”

“Climate change has caused Yemen’s production of grains this year to decline after reaching around one million in 2007,” said Mansour al-Haushabi, Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation during the World Food Day celebration.

Here’s the Yemen Times last year feeding the fear:

Climate change during the last few years and especially in 2009 is a real concern for Yemen, particularly if the frequency of precipitation events continues to diminish, putting agriculture in peril and potentially leading to a catastrophic drought.

The very next year, the rains return and expose the real reasons for Yemen’s instability – along with rising Islamic militancy:

Despite record rainfall in the Yemeni capital Sanaa and other areas this summer, very little is being done to harvest this water to mitigate water shortages, experts say.

In May at least seven people were killed in what officials described as the worst flooding to hit Sanaa in a decade….

Attempts by the government to harvest rainwater are very limited, according to Ramon Scoble, a consultant for Germany’s Technical Cooperation Committee (GTZ).

“The government is doing very little,” he said. “…There are a number of ineffective dams in Yemen and none are supplying significant water to cities, agriculture or groundwater recharge.”

Sanaa is predicted to be the first capital in the world to run out of economically viable water supplies by 2017. Experts say this is due to a rapid increase in Sanaa’s population in recent years because of rural-urban migration, and the widespread planting; and inefficient irrigation of `qat’, a water-thirsty plant believed to consume 40 percent of all irrigated water.

Hmm! No new dam there, either.

In fact, it’s the rapid rise in population throughout the dirt-poor country that’s perhaps, along with Islamisation, the greatest source of instability – far greater than “climate change”:

Yemen is facing multiple agricultural problems caused by drought, shortage of water for irrigation, rising temperatures, and a high population growth at 3% annually… Yemen imports 70% of its food commodities, and the rising prices of these commodities could increase the tensions in a society where weapons are widespread and where half the population lives on less than $2 a day.

In just 50 years the population has quadrupled in a poor country with cheap weapons and a newly militant us-versus-them faith. Or let me put the problem very graphically:

Undeterred, Sales and the admiral go on to discuss two more examples:

NEIL MORISETTI:  Will we find ourselves being involved in an increasing number of humanitarian activities as a result of extreme weather events and natural disasters? Or will we find ourselves helping other agencies and other government departments and international organisations to try and build the capacity and resilience in those countries that are most likely to be affected by climate change in order that they can cope with the challenges and look after their citizens.

LEIGH SALES: That’s already happening a lot isn’t it? The increasing use of militaries to deal with humanitarian and other disasters.

NEIL MORISETTI: Yes. We find ourselves on a number of occasions – we saw it recently in Haiti with Canadian forces and with American forces and from many other nations providing support. We saw it in Pakistan after the floods.

So the second example is an earthquake – nothing at all to do with climate change. And the third is the floods in Pakistan, which may be “climate change” at work – or just a once-in-a-generation heavy monsoonal flood.

I think the admiral has better things to do with his time than talk up this tosh.

Andrew Bolt is a journalist and columnist writing for The Herald Sun in Melbourne Victoria Australia.

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Andrew Bolt’s columns appear in Melbourne’s Herald Sun, Sydney’s Daily Telegraph and Adelaide’s Advertiser. He runs the most-read political blog in Australia and is a regular commentator on Channel 9′s Today show and ABC TV’s Insiders. He will be heard from Monday to Friday at 8am on the breakfast show of new radio station MTR 1377, and his book Still Not Sorry remains very widely read.