Thursday, June 2, 2011

Chaos in Yemen drives economy to the edge of ruin

WASHINGTON — Even as Yemen's political crisis deepens, the country is on the brink of an economic collapse so dire it could take years to recover and hobble efforts to restore any sense of cohesion as a nation.

After four months of mass protests and political deadlock, Yemen — the poorest Arab country — has seen its domestic oil supplies and electricity network largely cut off by hostile tribes. Gas lines now extend for miles in the capital, Sanaa, provoking fights and new protests; electricity is available only a few hours a day. Cooking gas and diesel for generators have also grown scarce, and with food prices rising fast, people have begun hoarding supplies, including water.

As foreign currency supplies dwindle, the elaborate system of patronage and corrupt payoffs that maintained a modicum of stability in Yemen is starting to crack, with former loyalists breaking off and fights erupting over a smaller and smaller pool of cash. The embattled president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, desperate to keep his supporters happy, has demanded multimillion-dollar loans from Yemen's top businessmen in recent weeks, according to Yemeni officials and members of the business elite.

The most fundamental of Yemen's diverse woes is the direst need of all: water. Since the political crisis began in January, the price of water has risen fivefold in some areas, tenfold in others. The drills that pump water from Yemen's rapidly dwindling underground supplies are falling silent, because the diesel fuel they require has grown so expensive and scarce. The area around Sanaa is especially arid, and it could become the first capital ever to run out of water, said experts at the World Bank.

One Western diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that even if the political situation stabilizes, the opposition's hopes of increasing foreign investment and changing Yemen's endemic corruption will not be realized "in one month, six months or even the next year."

Fighting, meanwhile, raged between government troops and opposition tribesmen in Sanaa. North of the city, government forces used tanks and artillery to repel a large group of armed tribesmen trying to reach Sanaa to aid Saleh's rivals, the Ahmar clan. And south of Sanaa, in the city of Taiz, there were reports that young protesters had begun taking up arms against the government for the first time.

0 commentaires:

Post a Comment