New Article in Science & Diplomacy on the International Science Partnership

We recently published an article on the International Science Partnership in the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s journal, Science & Diplomacy. The article describes our pilot project to address water and energy challenges in Yemen and places it in the broader context of engagement between the technical communities in Yemen and the United States.

Of course, the article posts against the backdrop of turmoil resulting from events of last week, when hundreds of people marched on the American embassy in Sana’a in protest to a film produced by an Egyptian-American that was denigrating to Islam. Yet the turbulence only underscores why it is important for the United States to strengthen its relationship with Yemen in order to weather these storms. To that end, the natural resource challenges facing Yemen, daunting as they are, can be seen as an opportunity for the United States to demonstrate that its interests are aligned with those of the Yemeni people.

Politics aside, it is also worth repeating that the sheer direness of Yemen’s situation demands attention. Although our ISP project focuses mainly on water and energy issues, the food crisis has become every bit as urgent. Hunger has doubled in Yemen over the past two years and now affects nearly half of the country’s 25 million people. Continue reading

The 52% Solution in Yemen

Debate has picked up on what exactly the U.S. strategy in Yemen is all about. John Brennan, the Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, recently came out to explain the Administration’s policy, which had been accused of focusing narrowly on counterterrorism. Continue reading

U.S.-Yemen International Science Partnership Project Underway

The FAS International Science Partnership (ISP) pilot project is set to take off in Amman this week with a workshop hosted by the Middle East Scientific Institute for Security (MESIS). The workshop will bring together an international team of engineers from the U.S. and Yemen to design collaborative projects that help address both countries’ interests in ensuring access to a safe and reliable supply of water and energy. Continue reading

A Closer Look at “Water Security” in Yemen

A few weeks ago the State Department took advantage of World Water day to announce the release of an National Intelligence Council report entitled “Water Security,” which assessed the possible effects of water shortages on U.S. national security over the next several decades. The NIC report’s “bottom line” was that “during the next ten years, many countries important to the United States will experience water problems . . . that will risk instability and state failure, increase regional tensions, and distract them from working with the United States on important U.S. policy objectives.” Although this conclusion may very well be correct, the relationship between water security and U.S. national security is more complicated than one might infer from the framing.  Continue reading

Want Water Security? Start with Forests.

Today, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) inaugurates 2011 as the International Year of the Forests.  In our rapidly urbanizing world where many people live detached from forests, wetlands, and other “wild” spaces, it is easy to forget their impact upon our daily lives and upon the essential resources and services we take for granted.   However, in reality these wild places provide numerous essential ecosystem services—especially those related to water security—including storage, filtration, increased precipitation, and localized climate cooling.

Considering that 80% of the world’s population lives in areas where water resources are considered to be insecure and more than 75% of the world’s freshwater supplies come from forested (or partially forested) watersheds, forests and wetlands play a critical and valuable role in helping to secure water supplies.  In the face of increasing stresses from population growth, land degradation, deforestation, and climate change, the services of these ecosystems are likely to become even more valuable over the coming decades.

So forests and wetlands are important not only for their own sake, but for the valuable role they play in providing cities, agricultural areas, and human populations worldwide with stable, clean water supplies.  But how valuable?  One study on The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) estimates that the water-related services of tropic forests account for up to 45% of their total value (USD 7,000/hectacre annually).  More than the value of timber, tourism, and carbon storage combined.

Water security can only be achieved by addressing a multitude of economic, social, and environmental factors and by analyzing how these factors interplay and interact to create a supply, delivery, disposal, and regeneration system.  Forests are an excellent place to start water security analysis and interventions.

Read more about the role of forests and wetlands in water security and the provision of key human resource and infrastructure services from the CBD here.

Engaging Yemen on the Sources of Insecurity

  • US aid for Yemen goes predominantly to military and hard security projects.
  • To confront the key sources of instability the U.S. must look beyond military assistance.
  • Tier two engagement will be a critical component of this strategy, especially in looking at challenges to natural resource and human security.
government protesters in Sana'a, 2009

As Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen makes headlines yet again for attempted terrorist activities against the United States, the US government is preparing a $150 million package aimed at training and aiding Yemeni security and military forces.  This unsurprising move represents business as usual for US-Yemeni relations; a continuation of security and terrorism-centric dialogue, policy, and funding that pervades all levels of the two countries’ engagement.    In fact, of the $63 million in aid money to Yemen in FY10, well over half goes toward military and security assistance.

In his October 29th speech on the attempted cargo plane bombings, President Obama announced that the US government intends to “strengthen a more stable, secure and prosperous Yemen so that terrorist groups to not have the time and space they need to plan attacks from within its borders.”   This statement is coupled with an announcement to increase the military aid to Yemen to $150 million.  Considering that the President’s FY11 budget called for just over $100 million in total aid for Yemen, 48% of which was for military and security assistance, this new announcement triples military aid and makes it approximately 75% of Yemen’s aid money.

While security is the primary focus of the FY 11 budget, under its new Yemen strategy USAID is also working to address some of the soft security issues that fuel instability.  Included in this FY11 budget are projects on:

  • Military and security assistance;
  • Responsive governance, a multi-sector project expected to be funded at $43 million for 5 years and aimed to strengthen public policies and institutions;
  • The Community Livelihoods Project, a multi-sector program expected to be funded at $125 million for 5 years with the goal of economic stabilization through government services, job creation, civic participation, and responsive local governance.
  • Urban refugee aid for those living in Sana’a;
  • Public health; and
  • Supporting an independent media.
AQAP, 2009, courtesy of The Long War Journal

This $200 million in aid compares to packages of over $1.5 billion for Egypt, $730 million for Iraq, $680 million for Jordan, $550 million for the West Bank and Gaza, and $250 million for Lebanon.

A recent article by Christopher Boucek of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace points out that Yemen suffers from more than just the hard security challenges associated with AQAP, the Houthi Rebellion in Sa’da, and the Southern Mobility separatist movement in the South and in Hadramawt[1]. Boucek notes that, “Beyond its security concerns, Yemen is on the brink of economic disaster, suffering from poor governance and quickly dwindling water supplies.”

The article rightly calls for the U.S. government to expand its aid focus to help Yemen: improve its legal system and laws, fight corruption, increase policing capacity, improve the economy, alter the land distribution and ownership system, and enhance the education system. These policy prescriptions are standard practice in the Middle East—multilateral aid packages with the goals of addressing economic instability, furthering governance and rule of law, promoting civil society, and improving education and with debatable effectiveness. Boucek further calls on the U.S. government to partner with Saudi Arabia, Yemen’s largest donor nation at $2 billion a year.

While these prescriptions will be important components in a comprehensive Yemen strategy, they fall short of addressing Yemen’s immediate and long term stability challenges, especially those

related to:  natural resources, population growth, and human health and capacity.

Robust track one and track two Yemeni-U.S. engagement will be necessary over the coming years.  Track two approaches will be especially important for addressing these core resource, population, and human challenges as their solutions are highly technical in nature, the target populations often live in areas with limited central government involvement or legitimacy, and effective solutions will require individual buy-in and stakeholder engagement from diverse actors.

Note that an effective strategy must include cooperation and engagement with the tribal and religious networks and stakeholders that are central components of Yemen’s social structure and civil society.  Tribes especially will be important partners in Yemen’s ongoing stability.  As an example of this, the leader of Yemen’s largest Bakil tribe, Sheikh Naji Abdul Aziz Al-Shayef, recently called for the creation of a coalition aligned with the government against Al Qaeda.

In the immediate future, the U.S. must support both track one and especially track two engagement in:

  • Resource ownership. An immediate problem, Yemen’s oil and natural gas are running out and its water is running out even faster.  The U.S. must support scientists, technologists, and other experts in working with Yemeni government officials, scientists, and stakeholders to determine resource distribution, replenishment rate, and must begin dialogues with stakeholders on how resources are distributed, allocated, and managed.
  • Land ownership. Before radically overhauling the land ownership system, the U.S. must work with the Yemeni government to institute legal safeguards that ensure that traditional land tenure systems are recognized. Current land reform efforts seek to secure land titling through registration and ownership legislation.  However, much land is owned at the tribal level, is communally owned, or is owned by the local mosque for the benefit of the mosque and the area’s poor (generally as a result of land donated through zakat or alms) and land reformation has the potential to further increase poverty as those without registration are displaced.
  • Science and technology (S&T) cooperation. The U.S. government should take advantage of the Arab world’s favorable opinion of U.S. S&T to develop exchange programs and build internal Yemeni S&T capacity, focusing on issues such as water, energy, and biosecurity, which are of mutual need and interest.
  • Refugees. Located not just below Saudi Arabia, but just across the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden from Africa, Yemen is a country of 23 million people, with almost 200,000 refugees.  The majority of these refugees are from Somalia, with small groups from Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Iraq.  The U.S. must work with civil society in the U.S., Yemen, and internationally, as well as with the UNHRC, to develop a strategy for permanent resettlement and to aid refugees as well as the populations in the South of Yemen where the refugee camps are located.
  • Internally displaced persons. Yemen has an estimated 150,000-250,000 internally displaced persons, mostly in Sa’da and the North.  The U.S. must work with local tribes, international human rights and refugee organizations, and the government of Yemen and to develop a strategy for infrastructure and housing development, for public health initiatives, and for economic development.

Long term formal and informal engagement on the following issues is critical:

  • Resource management. With dwindling resources, especially of water and fossil fuels, management is an increasingly critical challenge.  Sustainable resource use and allocation mechanisms are critical.   Their development can be best facilitated by the U.S. supporting tier two collaborations between experts, resource managers, and stakeholders, backed by tier one cooperation with politicians to develop supportive legislation, markets, and profit sharing mechanisms.
  • Infrastructure development.
  • Public health. Foci of these efforts should be infectious diseases, material and reproductive health, access to basic medical services, and population control issues.

No one policy or engagement strategy will be a panacea for Yemen’s root destabilizing factors.  Instead, the U.S. and other donor nations must focus on a variety of strategies at multiple levels of engagement that enhance human capacity and education, stabilize resource use and availability, improve governance, engage Yemen in the global S&T community, and approach Yemen as both a unique state and as a critical actor in a volatile region.

[1] For an overview of the Southern Mobility Movement (SMM) in Hadrawawt, see Michael Horton’s article “The Growing Separatists Threat in Yemen’s Hadramawt Governorate,” TerrorismMonitor Volume VIII, Issue 40.

Eco-Affordable Housing: FAS Helps Habitat Build Green

  • The Building Technologies Program at FAS is releasing the High Performance Building Guide for Habitat for Humanity Affiliates
  • This report provides practical guidelines, resources, and advice to improve the quality of affordable housing while minimizing cost
  • Check the guide out here.

High performance housing has long been the privilege of the high-end residential market.  Higher up front costs are driven by such expenses as better HVAC systems, superior engineering and construction, innovative and sustainable materials, and a suite of green technologies.

But these homes have benefits needed and deserved not just by those capable of affording a high-end home, but by all consumers; they are healthier and safer for residents, use fewer resources, produce less waste, and take into consideration the inhabitants’ specific needs. And over the lifecycle of the house, the total cost (defined as initial costs + operating costs) of high performance homes are frequently less expensive than an average house.  Improved materials,  engineering, and construction can yield lower costs, less maintenance, and healthier residents.

Habitat for Humanity International is a major player in the affordable housing market, building and financing decent, safe, affordable homes for low-income families who in turn, contribute their own labor (sweat equity) to the construction of their house.  Over the past  year FAS has teamed up with several excellent Habitat affiliates and partners from Seattle and Tacoma, Washington; Denver, Colorado; Washington, DC; Danville, Virginia; Orlando, Florida, and New York, New York to create a High Performance Building Guide for Habitat for Humanity affiliates.

This practical guide to energy efficient, green construction provides a practical road map and affiliate case studies to aid Habitat affiliates in constructing high performing houses.  Based on the principles of whole building design–the guide covers the full building process from finding green partners and training staff and volunteers, to design, construction management, and verification and reporting.

The guide is divided into 16 key element or steps, each of which is essential to building a higher performing house that uses safer, healthier, and more efficient materials, techniques, and processes.

Each of the 16 sections includes:

  • recommendations on and priorities for improving  building practice and decision making;
  • an overview of the benefits to improving performance for that element;
  • design guidelines and specifications;
  • building process and evaluation guidelines and specifications;
  • explanations of the available tools and their uses; and
  • lists of resources available to achieve project goals.

This green building guide was written for Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and funded by the Department of Energy’s Building Technology Program.

Fuel Efficiency Is in Style

How do you make a highly fuel efficient car that looks cool, and appeals to the average consumer?  If you are the X-Prize Foundation, you would have a competition offering a $5,000,000 prize for anyone who makes a really cool car that can also get 100 mpg and meets other requirements intended to push it along the path to mass production.  The Progressive Automotive X-Prize was awarded yesterday to three teams, who shared the $10 million in prize money.

The Mainstream category prize of $5 Million was awarded to The Edison2 team who created the “Very Light Car,” which weighs 800- pounds and gets 100-miles to the gallon…
…and it is pretty blue with doors the open in a really cool way.

What? Who cares if it’s pretty?  Well, it surely does matter whether it’s pretty. Who wants to buy a car that is ugly? And who buys a car they don’t want?  One reason the X-Prize Foundation choose to create this competition to demonstrate that fuel efficiency can be fun to drive, cool to look at and worthy of your neighbor’s envy.

Beautiful blue car with doors that open straight up, the Very Light Car is attractive beyond just its fuel Beautiful blue car with doors that open straight up, the Very Light Car is attractive beyond just its fuel effciency.
Photo from the Edison2 team website

Another motivation of the X-Prize Foundation is to speed up the rate of development of highly fuel efficient cars. And as many of the X-Prize competing team members say, that the competition has actually done that.

How this prize affects car development?

The various team members agree that fuel efficient technology development is accelerated by this X-Prize.  In the above video they give concrete examples about how it has helped them, motivated them and changed their research plans and methods.  We all hope that significantly more fuel efficient cars, whether they be gasoline powered, like The Very Light Car, or whether they be electric powered, as some of the other X-Prize winners.

The Department of Energy, as well as Congress have put their support behind The Automotive X-Prize.  Educational materials for K-12 students can be found on the Department of Energy Fuel Our Future Now website.

We hope the increased awareness and accelerated technology pay off in great increases in fuel efficiency.  What do you think?

Monitor, Manage & Share: Addressing Environmental Research Needs in Yemen

Over the past three weeks in Sana’a, rain has fallen nearly every day.  So much so that the primary drainage canal for the Old City (the Salia)—normally a roadway—has run with feet of water on multiple occasions.

See  the Salia running with water in this FAS Youtube video.


It is an arid city, but not one without water, receiving some eight inches of rain per year.  And yet despite this annual rainfall, some estimates predict that Sana’a will essentially run out of water within the next decade.  Where does the water go once it has fallen?  How much is expected to fall over the coming years?  How much of the shallow groundwater aquifer is refilled when it rains?  And how quickly is that aquifer being drained?

Most of these questions cannot be answered as Yemen’s water and environmental monitoring capacity is highly limited.  In fact, for the Sana’a basin, there are only two sets of water monitoring tools (one for precipitation and one for groundwater wells) available to university and non-government researchers.  Considering that some models show Sana’a running out of groundwater within a decade, this monitoring limitation is a critical barrier to the development and implementation of effective solutions and management strategies.

Enhanced monitoring is one of the key needs identified by researchers and stakeholders within Yemen.

In meetings over the past two weeks dozens of academics, ministers, and NGO environmentalists have identified key areas for research and debated the primary needs of both the Yemeni research community and Yemen’s environment.

As expressed by the scientists, future research should focus on environmental challenges related to water, energy, and agriculture (for more on Yemen’s environmental issues, see our blog on systems research).  In order to develop meaningful solutions to these environmental challenges, specific needs must be met.  These needs broadly fall into the following categories:  improved resource monitoring and management, increased access to resources, and improved knowledge sharing and collaboration.

To undertake meaningful environmental research and address these critical challenges, capacity must be developed in the following areas:

  • environmental monitoring, especially of water, ecological systems, and energy resources;
  • accurate and comprehensive data of key environmental systems;
  • models of environmental systems that include physical, social, economic, and cultural factors;
  • water and energy management, including the development of markets and long-term monitoring capacity;
  • access to additional water and energy supplies and infrastructure; and
  • domestic and international funding and support for applied research.

In addition, the capacity of the research community itself must be strengthened. For example, this group of researchers has no formal mechanism for knowledge or resource sharing and has had little internal communication in the past.  One researcher, in fact, thanked us for coming because before this conference he had never known there were people at universities working in renewable energy—our coming to his university was the first time he had the opportunity to know about and possibly collaborate with these colleagues.

This example demonstrates one of the many capacity limitations that confront the Yemeni environmental research community.  In order to overcome these limitations, researchers have identified the following areas as priorities for community capacity building:

  • improved access to physical, financial, and personnel resources (including but not limited to equipment and facilities, technology, research funding, international training and expertise, data, and international journals and publications);
  • a strengthened voice in Yemen both within government and amongst the general population;
  • better internal knowledge and information sharing;
  • enhanced communication with the international research and technical communities; and
  • a long term strategy for cooperation with international researchers, funders, and stakeholders.

As conversations over our two weeks of meetings constantly reiterated, as the International Science Partnership moves forward all research projects undertaken must not only address the critical environmental issues in Yemen, but must also develop the country’s capacity to engage in meaningful environmental research and address the concerns and needs of the Yemeni research community itself.

A New Step for Yemeni-U.S. Science Engagement

6 August 2010

Welcome to Sana’a.  To set the scene for the city, imagine eight inches of rain a year, falling on a city at 7000 feet with a population of 2 million, growing at over 5% per year.  Add in a limited and sporadic electrical grid, a water-hungry cash crop (qat) that has replaced much food production, a tradition of flood agriculture, and an instable political and security situation, with limited government control outside the main cities.  Foreign governments and media cry out with warnings of terrorism and express concern as to whether Yemen will become the next “failed state”.  With this as a background, we asked ourselves, “Do Yemeni researchers have the interest and the capacity to engage in long-term collaborative science projects with the U.S. scientific community?”

After two days of successful meetings and conferences, we can answer yes to both these questions and state that the International Science Partnership (ISP) vision is one step closer to fruition. Even more importantly than the capacity for research that the Yemeni science community has demonstrated, the leading faculty, government ministers, and NGOs have all affirmed a wholehearted support for the ISP and for greater science engagement with America.

FAS President Charles Ferguson affirms this message, stating that this visit has been one of the most positive experiences of his career.  Never has he worked with a scientific community and a ministry so positive and enthusiastic about science engagement and so willing to share their knowledge and visions.

On our first day in Yemen the University of Sana’a hosted a conference to introduce and obtain feedback on the ISP, to review the energy and water research being carried out in Yemen, and to discuss research and resource needs.  Attendees included over 40 water and energy professors from Sana’a University, Aden University, Taiz University, and Hadramout University, as well as ministry researchers and environmental NGO officials.   Attendees contributed to the meeting by presenting the work being done in their department, their research needs, and the goals for their future.  The research presented was largely applied rather than basic or theoretical and covered a wide array of topics, ranging from the application of solar technology to desalination and agriculture to irrigation for arid climates, electrical grid optimization, and biomass utilization.

On the second day, we visited with the Minister of Higher Education, and the Minister and Deputy Minister of Water and the Environment.  Each of these officials gave an overview of the critical environmental issues facing Yemen, the country’s greatest needs, and how he would like to see a U.S.-Yemeni science partnership take shape.   Through frank and engaging discussions, we gained a fuller picture of the socio-cultural, political, economic, and resource challenges facing Yemen and the current approaches to solving these challenges.

And in answer to our query of where our program fits and where the United States fits in addressing these challenges, the ministers requested full engagement.   They implored FAS and the U.S. to break away from the sole-focus terrorism/guns/security conversation and to open a more productive dialogue.  A dialogue over shared environmental concerns and solutions, on education, and on developing technical capacity for Yemen to address its own internal challenges.

And what are these internal challenges and critical needs?  More coming soon…