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…