Yemen is the first country in the world to be running out of water.  In the capital, Sana’a, water supplies will run out in the next 10 years.  The country is also running out of oil—its main revenue source—and the state is losing control of various parts of the country to tribal, regional and religious rebellion.   The problems of Yemen reflect the problems of the future in which poor water management, over reliance on oil, and poor governance will lead a number of nation states to collapse.  

Yemen is not alone in its predicament.  Somalia collapsed years ago.  Haiti was in a state of near collapse even before the recent earthquake.  Around the world, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Western Sudan, Nepal, Indonesia and others all face daunting environmental pressures.  Climate change and global warming will only make these problems more acute and widespread.  

It is indicative that Yemen did not grab the attention of leaders around the world, until a young Nigerian, trained in Yemen, tried to blow himself up over a major US city last Christmas.  While a trickle of aid was flowing into Yemen before then, the big aid was going to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Egypt, and other important players in the political and security arena.  

Until pressures are translated into direct security threats, the international community seems unable to act effectively.  Since the attempted bombing, aid pledges to Yemen have increased dramatically.

The aid philosophy of the international community is based on the logic of the post world war II era.   It assumes optimistically that if you provide the means and tools for a society to organize itself and exploit its resources, it will be on the path to sustainable development.  As resources are increasingly strained, this approach means that many societies are inadvertently developing themselves into the ground.  And in an increasingly interconnected world, the collapse of one society has immediate economic, political and security repercussions on societies around it.  

The World Bank and other large aid donors are increasingly aware of this predicament, but the urgency of large-scale resource-sensitive aid intervention has yet to register as a serious priority among political decision makers.   

The crisis of Yemen also illustrates how the West alone cannot tackle these challenges.  As the world becomes more decentralized and multi-polar, the responsibility of action is spread more widely.  Among Yemen’s immediate neighbours, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates have enormous financial reserves.  The city-emirate of Abu Dhabi alone, with a native population of 300,000, has financial reserves close to three quarters of a trillion dollars.  It has recently moved tens of billions of dollars to save the Las Vegas playground of Dubai, but scarcely a few million to save Yemen.  The Chinese giant has moved to exploit oil resources in Yemen, Sudan, and other parts of Africa, but has not matched it with policies or aid packages that would effectively help these countries avert collapse.  

As the G-8 was replaced with the G-20 to rethink and tackle the globe’s financial woes, what is needed is a rethink of global development strategy and institutions to reflect the key developmental challenges of the new century and to bring in the emerging regional and global players to positions of developmental responsibility.