Yemenity2010's Blog

Less could mean more for Yemeni agriculture

Posted in Blog Entry in English, Tema: Vatten by yemenity2010 on 09/09/2012

Water is getting scarce in an increasing number of countries around the world, not least Yemen. What can be done about it? Some ongoing projects are addressing the issue, for example when it comes to agriculture. Such as the Water for All project, overseen by the international NGO Operation Mercy. Specifically, it deals with more economic ways of watering crops, something normally executed by flooding. With drip irrigation, new possibilities open up. In the words of one farmer:

– The traditional method took a lot of money in order to pay workers and buy fuel for the pump. With drip irrigation, the amount of water needed is very minimal, but the crop is abundant!

Another farmer also stresses the savings of water, as well as money, time and effort put into the work when they’ve tried drip irrigation. With support from a local NGO, funds are being set up to help more farmers get the equipment necessary to try this method of watering their fields. So, could this be one way of creating a more sustainable system of agriculture and help the economy in a society presently struggling on so many levels, including internal strife in almost the entire country? At least, the organization responsible hopes so.

Read more at the Operation Mercy website.  

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Salmon Fishing Shot Swedish Style – Not As Good As the Book?

Posted in Blog Entry in English, Tema: Kultur, Tema: Vatten by yemenity2010 on 15/04/2012

The novel has already achieved a sort of cult status, and now the film has arrived. It opened here in Sweden roughly two weeks ago, and it happens to be directed by a Swede. I’m talking about ”Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”. I read it while working in Yemen and was struck by the interesting, some might say odd, structure and narrative techniques used by author Paul Torday. Plot developments are told mainly through diary entries, police interrogation transcripts, parliament committee hearings, e-mail exchanges and such sources. The time perspectives alter quickly between what could be seen as a designated ”now” and flashbacks. Or maybe the other way around. Flashforwards and -sideways like the ”Lost” TV concept? Well, not that complicated, but still intriguing.

Also, Torday likes to piece together a jigsaw puzzle which reveals unpleasant and unwelcome truths one by one in an entertaining fashion, but he doesn’t place all cards on the table until the Grand Finale. Big issues are dealt with and the author is subtly satirical, obviously not very optimistic about the edifying qualities of politics, while simultaneously incorporating these sociopolitical jibes in a story where ordinary human weaknesses are exposed equally unmercifully. Well, sometimes he finds their strengths too, and some of the people in the story are actually easy to like in spite of their weaknesses. Maybe they are… human?

I started thinking that maybe there was film hidden in there, although it wasn’t obvious from the way it was written. About a year ago I discovered that the film productions was already under way and I wrote a piece (in Swedish) based mostly on a report from the monthly magazine Yemen Today. According to their article the result was bound to become ”… a must-see for anyone susceptible to the charms found exclusively in Yemen”.

About the film itself (starring Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt and Kristin Scott Thomas) I can’t really say that much – yet. I haven’t seen it – yet. Critics like Roger Ebert seem to think that director Lasse Hallström has put too much emphasis on romance and lighthearted stuff while he ”doesn’t take advantage of the rich eccentricity in the story”.

Peter Debruge from Variety apparently agrees: ”Like one of those kitchen machines that can turn nearly any ingredient into ice cream, Lasse Hallstrom has sweetened the satire right out of Paul Torday’s side-splitting political sendup…”. Debruges conclusion: ”Hallstrom has built a respectable career bringing surface polish to feel-good stories, and he’s not about to get all philosophical now.” Harsher still is Joanne Laurier from World Socialist Web Site (a forum not exactly known for worshipping feelgood movies in general, as far as I can tell): With his latest movie, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, one wonders if the director is seriously paying attention to anything going on in the world…  The WSWS reviewer claims that the Swedish director mostly ”wants the viewer to leave his or her brain outside the theater. Among the many things the viewer should forget or ignore is that Britain was a colonial power in southern Yemen from 1839 and only left, in the face of massive popular opposition, in 1967”. Laurier’s punchline: ”Hallström’s trademark liberal wishful thinking has this time landed him in murky waters.”

Ouch. Of course I have to see the film sooner or later, anyway. Also, the criticism for not taking into account the Arab Spring in the movie might be unfair, since most of ”Salmon Fishing” was probably shot before the start of the protests in Yemen and other Arab countries. Some Swedish reviewers have even called this the funniest film Hallström has made in a long time, but I’ll be back with my own opinions when I’ve had the opportunity to watch the film for myself. I must say I had a hard time picturing Ewan McGregor as the protagonist Dr. Alfred Jones. On the other hand, it’s difficult to think of any established movie star radiating (or the opposite of that) the extreme grayness Jones seems to possess when you read the book…

Yes, there is a lot of fascinating scenery to found in Yemen. But water is scarce. So exactly how clever is the idea of introducing fishing for sport in that country? Probably only in the world of fiction, right?

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Intelligent Designs in an Age of Terror?

Posted in Blog Entry in English, Tema: Kultur, Tema: Politik by yemenity2010 on 14/02/2012

The international film festival in Gothenburg took place again recently. I had the privilege to see the British political thriller ”Page Eight”, which was… OK, maybe not great, but definitely good. And as a bonus, the director David Hare took some questions from the audience afterwards. The theme is terrorism, or more exactly, how to respond to it from the perspective of the British intelligence agency MI5. They’ve had a hard time since 9/11 according to Mr Hare, partly because they refused to produce evidence of weapons of mass destruction when the Prime minister needed a case to go to war in Iraq along with the US.

MI5 is, by the way, the branch of British Intelligence that operates within British shores, as opposed to MI6 (where James Bond would have been employed, had he existed in real life). The latter branch was more willing to provide the ‘intel’ that Tony Blair was asking for, than MI5.

– Both have had difficult years, says David Hare who thought the time was ripe for a film on the topic, just like John le Carré wrote novels about the Cold War.

The people in ”Page Eight”, especially the leading character, MI5 investigator Johnny is portrayed in a rather sympathetic way, as played by the veteran Bill Nighy (”Love Actually”, ”The Constant Gardener”) whom Hare has worked with on several occasions.

– I didn’t write the part for him, but when I’d written 30 pages it was obvious it was him. And he wanted to play this part; he’s very mysterious and very attractive to women. Two things that all actors dream of playing…

Hare also got the Australian actress Judy Davis to play a part, but it didn’t come easy.

– I struggled to get her. In Australia she’s regarded as such a great actress that she hardly acts at all! But her agent said to her: if you don’t do this, what will you ever do?

All in all, the cast was made up of mostly experienced and skilled actors (like Rachel Weisz, Michael Gambon and Ralph Fiennes) who together formed ”a nauseatingly happy family” in Hare’s words. And he admits he needed it, since the film was made principally for British TV with a five-week shooting schedule and a very modest budget. Not like when Hare was involved in making films like ”The Hours ” and ”The Reader”.

– You won’t believe how long we went on filming those…

Now everyone had to be on top of their game, with no time to ‘hang around’.

– I would hate to do it with actors less good than this lot. But these are all actors that can do anything, says Hare who considers the chance to visit film festivals is a nice bonus considering the circumstances while making ”Page Eight”.

But he also notes the fact that many of the best writers in America now works in television, such as Aaron Sorkin.

– After ”Social Network” he’s the most admired screenwriter in America and what is he doing? An HBO series. And why? Because that’s where the intelligent people are and also where the writer is the person who drives the medium. The writer’s the most important person in the room. Well, that is never true in Hollywood – on the contrary…

One question from the audience considered the less flattering portrayal of politicians. Hare agrees, even if the thinks his own creation, the Prime minister played by Ralph Fiennes is more ”formidable, intelligent, resolute and strong” than real politicians usually are. But Hare’s experience with world leaders he ”occasionally has bumped into” are different from other people.

– One thing that western world leaders think is that our civilization is under attack from muslim fundamentalists, who are coming to destroy us. This is what they believe and they believe that everything they do is justified by this threat, Hare explains, while adding briefly that Barack Obama is cleverer than the rest and doesn’t necessarily sees the world the same way.

But the themes in the film are not only what kind of information is passed on to politicians, but also in what way it is obtained. Such as torture, which has been illegal within Britain for more than 400 years.

– There may be a threat, but obviously the film is about the means by which we fight that threat. And obviously a lot of people in MI5 have been very squeamish and disapproving of some of the methods that have been too easily adopted by politicians.

Also, a number of films from the Arab world was shown in Gothenburg. Sad to say, I only saw two of them, of which the Egyptian ”Cairo 678”, about sexual harrassments in society, really impressed me. Three women confronts abuses in different ways, while their destinies begin to converge. The Palestinian drama ”Habibi” had an interesting theme; love in times of conflict and against the odds, but it still felt a bit unfinished and less involving than it should have. Partly because of the male protagonist who was a lot less vivid and intriguing than the female one; i.e. the love of his life.

(More film festival reviews in Swedish are available at russin.nu)

Speaking of films: Not as good as the book – or will it be? ”Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” by Paul Torday was a treat, and soon the film is about to open, as it happens directed by a Swede.

Somewhat related topics: Al Jazeera English has covered a lot of what’s happening in the Middle East lately and here’s a page with an overview of the coverage.

The International Food Policy Research Institute recently released a report titled ”Beyond the Arab Awakening”. Haven’t read much of it yet, but the researchers point out that ”Results suggest that poverty and income inequality in the Arab world are likely higher than official numbers have long suggested.”

The Yemeni water crisis isn’t going away anytime soon, it seems. Could it even lead to wars? Here’s an update from a news channel and the blog The Wadi. I wrote on this topic about 1,5 years ago here.

Why Visit Yemen? The Gospel According to some Yemenites.

Posted in Blog Entry in English, Tema: Vatten by yemenity2010 on 25/07/2011

Ancient history, spectacular nature and friendly people. Those are some of the main attractions in Yemen, according to young Yemeni people I consulted when I was about to leave the country last winter. Right now the situation might not be the most welcoming or secure for visitors, but as people there like to point out – this civilization have been around a long time, and this is not the first time it has experienced dramatic events. 

– Every place in Yemen is attractive.

It’s december 2010 and I am about to finish one of the very last writing courses I have been teaching in Taiz. As a final exercise the participants get to promote their own country, ”selling it” and emphasizing all the good things they themselves see, and which could also benefit the tourist business. It hasn’t been easy attracting tourists during the last decade, mainly due to security, or rather lack thereof. A shame, considering all the historical landmarks and memorable views the area has to offer. At this time, when we’re discussing the issue, the so called ”Arab Spring” hasn’t really initiated. Actually it seemed to take off a week or so after I left Yemen in early January 2011.

During the year I spent there I gathered quite a lot of information that I still haven’t explored fully. This is one example that I think might be worth sharing, sooner or later, even if the current situation in that nation at present seems even more volatile and less tourist-friendly. One way or the other things will keep changing. Exactly how and in what direction is another matter. Any predictions about what will come out of the changes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen are bound to be uncertain, so for now I am going back to what these young people, most of them between 20 and 30 years of age, thought could show their country in a more positive light.

Different environments like seas, deserts and islands as well as historical places are what Donia, Sarah and Samah want to point out to begin with. For practical purposes I have divided the class into smaller groups and given them ten minutes or so, to come up with their priorities. I might add that many of them are students or in some cases teachers themselves. Concrete examples this trio of young women like to mention are Saber Mountain, which rises above the city of Taiz. Also Bab al-Yemen (the entrance to the Old City in the capital Sana’a, where 1000-year-old houses constitute one of UNESCO:s world heritage sites), Socotra Island (home to a fauna sometimes compared to Galápagos Islands for its uniqueness). This also reminds me of the somewhat embarrassing fact that I have managed to work both in Ecuador and Yemen without paying a visit to either of these very special islands. Well, it is a little expensive (especially Galápagos) so that will be my excuse for now, at least…

– To see the essence of the Yemeni people. We are the most good-hearted people in the peninsula, says Adel, one of the few men in the group, when motivating presumtive visitors.

The amiable nature of the Yemeni is supposedly stated already by the prophet Muhammad (whose name seldom is mentioned in this country without adding ”peace be upon him”).  Yemen is an old civilization, that’s something Adel (and one or two other guys, whose names now escape me) emphasizes. Older than Saudiarabia, Oman and Bahrein and comparable to Egypt and Iraq, I’m told by my students. The most important places? Provinces like Marib, Hadramaout and the northernmost parts of the country come up. Unfortunately Marib, supposedly home to the legendary Queen of Sheba (mostly known as Bilquis) and home to some ancient monuments, is more or less off limits for foreigners nowadays. There has been a number of kidnappings there, and also attacks on power stations which has a debilitating effect on the country as a whole. The northern parts close to the border of Saudi Arabia have also been increasingly dangerous, including a civil war between the government and rebels from the Houthi tribe.

– The people in Yemen are friendly, generous and hospitable.

There it is again. This time proudly presented by Fayrouz, Shaima, Nuria and Amani; four women who also choose to bring up the climate as an argument:

– If you want to see the world, come to Yemen. We have all seasons.

But not snow?

– If you go to Sana’a and north to Saada, it’s frozen. If you sleep in the night you can get your bottle of water icy in the morning. In the north you can get winter, if you want heat you go to Aden. If you want normal you can stay in Taiz.

Mountains, islands and wadis (valleys or occasionally dried-up riverbeds)  are others of nature’s gifts to inhabitants and visitors.

– I think Ibb is enough for foreigners to visit. It’s a wonderful city, claims one of the women who says she grew up in a village near Ibb, roughly an hour an a half north of Taiz on the road to Sana’a if you’re travelling by car or bus.

It’s not the first time I hear someone praising that city, one of the more populated in the country but not as crowded as Taiz. It’s generally greener than most other places in a region where arid, brownish landscapes and long dry spells without any rain are common. On other occasions I’ve also heard Ibb being described as home to the richest people in Yemen, the ones with the best connections to government and ruling classes, but that’s another story. Water is normally scarce in the country and the problem is increasing (something I’ve brought up earlier), but the group likes to remind me that once upon a time there were magnificent dams in Marib and a well-functioning system for supplying water.

– Yemen is the source of all Arab countries, Fayrouz & co would like to point out.

History again. The awareness of their descendance is a source of pride for many Yemeni people, that much I’ve learned.

– There would be no country in the world without Yemen, they add, and even if it seems slightly exaggerated and not entirely meant to be taken seriously, it is true that people from this area have been moving around and emigrating a lot through history.

Someone spontaneously mentions the Libyan leader Muammar Khadaffi (who’s been a lot in the news since then as you probably know, and whose name apparently can be spelled approximately 749, 5 different ways) and suggests, with a wry smile, that I should ask Mr Khadaffi.

Ask him what?

– About Lockerbie… No, about his origins.

Yemeni Waterloo? (English Version)

Posted in Blog Entry in English, Direkt från Jemen, Tema: Vatten by yemenity2010 on 08/09/2010

Water. Very difficult to live without and something we tend to take for granted. Not in all places though – especially not in Yemen.

Yes, the situation is serious. Recently, on vacation in Sweden, I noticed the daily Göteborgs-Posten bringing up the water crisis in Yemen. ”It’s a country with more guns than people, where the water is running out and where the population will increase to more than 50 million people within 40 years. Also, it’s a place of a quiet war between the USA and Al-Qaida” the article states in its first paragraph, after which it goes on to emphasize how the price of water has quadrupled in only four years and how much of it is used for the cultivation of qat. According to a UN prognosis there will be 50 million people here by 2050. Today they’re approximately 24 million while 60 years ago, at the end of the second world war, there were only four million.

The water issue is crucial, as the magazine Yemen Today pointed out earlier this year. The country is really about to lose its water supplies within a not so distant future, unless a radical rescue mission can turn things around. Already, half of the population lacks access to potable water at home and two thirds don’t have the possibility of covering their basic sanitary needs. According to some experts, the capital Sana’a could be drained from all its groundwater within 15 years. That would make people completely dependent on the rain, but considering the expected population growth and climate changes, that’s an unreliable source which might not be enough. Farmers who once could rely on predictable weather patterns now experience something a lot more unpredictable. Dry spells are more common, while on occasion intense flooding causes huge problems. Last year 58 people were killed in the province of Hadramaut when ”a year’s worth of rain” seemed to come all at once during a few days in October. The important agricultural sector in Yemen is threatened which could result in mass migration to the big cities already struggling with overpopulation and growing slums.

The country receives millions of dollars from among others the USA, Germany, Holland and Britain to help solve the water problem, according to Yemen Today. But the groundwater reserves continue to diminish. 90 percent of all water is used in the agricultural sector, which is estimated to be able to cut down its consumption with as much as 50 percent, using more modern methods of irrigation. However, it’s difficult convincing most farmers that these changes will pay off for them. And the cultivation of the slighly narcotic qat (or khat) leaves always seem to enter the debate; that production cycle accounts for possibly as much as 40 percent of the whole water consumption in Yemen.

The scarcity of water affects the whole of society; even education. Many children, girls especially, can’t find the time to attend school since they have to spend time on providing water for their families, and what they themselves get to drink is often dirty which causes sickness and absence from classes, explains Johan Kuylenstierna, chief technical advisor at UN Water. Additionally, schools in the countryside often lack special sanitary facilities for girls – if there are any at all.

– There is a lot of stigma around sanitation, Kuylenstierna tells Yemen Today.

– People do not know that there is a water crisis in Yemen, says Yann Le Gleau, interviewed by Yemen Times.

Le Gleau is one of two French filmmakers who chose to focus on this issue in their latest documentary. The lack of water in Africa is not news anymore, he points out, something which accounts for many Africans seeking refuge in Yemen. But the problem is ”particularly sharp” here according to the Frenchman. He was himself surprised to see so many people in Sana’a without daily access to water, especially the Akhdam people (who generally are poorer than the average Yemenis). But which is the most affected area? The paper wants to know.

– I think the Taiz region, city and rural areas, are the worst, says Le Gleau who noticed girls walking for hours to collect water.

Part of the problem is due to bad management of water, he thinks and adds that the cultivation of qat makes matters worse. There are hopeful signs, though, such as initiated projects fo desalination of seawater. The country itself is beautiful and people are friendly, he emphasises, comparing it to other places he and his colleague Sebastien Mesquida has visited and reported from earlier.

Yes, the water issue is possibly the gravest of many problems facing Yemen, according to the news bureau UPI a few months ago. Could this be a factor in causing a total collapse of the nation, which could have ripple effects on the rest of the Arabian peninsula? Disputes between different groups erupt regularly over water wells and unlicensed drilling is believed to be widespread. A few years ago The World Bank estimated that the groundwater levels in Yemen were  dropping between 20 and 65 feet a year. This is happening while the population in Sana’a has quadrupled since the 1980’s and now keeps growing at eight percent annually. Ten years ago the city had 180 functioning water wells. Today there are 80, and 70 percent of the population depend on deliveries from private water trucks (which, by the way, is the same system we use at the Training Center in Taiz where I work).

So what about desalination? After all, Yemen has access to a coastline of more than 2000 kilometers. Now the successful Hayel Saeed Group of Companies constructed the first desalination unit in the nation, primarily to provide clean water for their own installations. The saltwater will be processed by the coast, in Al-Makha before being transported inland to Taiz by trucks. The co-director of the unit believes this to be the future for Yemen in the effort to solve the dilemma. Representatives for national authorities also hope for more cooperation between the private and public sectors in this case. Saudiarabian sponsors are said to be involved in plans for expanding this project, for example by financing pipelines that could help transport more water from the coast. Sceptics point out that the existing water networks are in bad shape, which could derail the idea of desalination as the salvation for Yemen.

So, are there reasons to be optimistic or not?


SOURCES OF INFORMATION:

”Jemens vatten snart slut” by Jan Arell, Göteborgs-Posten, August 11, 2010

”Already Thirsty and Drying Fast: The Yemeni Water Crisis” by Heather Murdock, Yemen Today, February 2010

”French filmmaker to the Yemen Times: ”The management of water in Yemen is awful” by Mahmoud Assamiee, Yemen Times May 20, 2010

”Water crisis fuels Yemen’s many woes” United Press International, June 9, 2010

”Yemen To Launch First Desalination Project” by Mahmoud Assamiee, Yemen Times July 1, 2010

Also interesting in this context: water.org, an organization dedicated to global water issues; and UN Water. Also, I shouldn’t neglect to mention the fact that World Water Week is taking place this week in Stockholm, Sweden.

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