A Railway System in Yemen? [Archives:1999/29/Reportage]

July 19 1999

I would like to bring up a very interesting idea that may or may not have been asked or pondered. Has the government of Yemen ever discussed the idea of a railway system? It is a proven fact that a railway system opens up a nation in many areas. Areas such as tourism, medical aid to rural areas, easier access for the citizens to get from one part of the country to another safely, and many more. America’s west wouldn’t have been so easily “won” without the advance of the locomotive. India was famed for its railway system. Now even Europe has used the latest advances in railway travel technology to bridge the gap between nations with fast and efficient travel. A railway in Yemen could make travel between major economic centers like Sanaa, Taiz, Ibb, Aden, Hodeidah, and other cities, easier and safer. This railway system would also benefit many people. Badly needed medical supplies could get to where they are needed faster, and grains and other foods could be better distributed as well! 
Far away areas could be reached without chance of spoilage or theft, and maybe companies could find new areas to set up factories to produce their product. This expansion of commercial infrastructure would help poorer regions by providing employment opportunities. The trains would help transfer products from the production centers to ports or cities faster. In other words- there is basically no bad thing that could come out of this idea. Except for maybe one- and it is a dreaded but real threat. It is well known that the oil pipelines have not escaped damage caused by groups protesting against local injustices. So a real fear would be that a vital lifeline like a railway would make easy prey. Damage to the tracks or rail cars could be a reality. Another real fear is people not taking precautions at rail crossings. Many deaths occur in America due to people trying to beat the train or getting stuck on the tracks. Although in the overall railway industry these aren’t as numerous as one may think, one sad accident is more than enough. But for a developing country like Yemen- a railway is not something that should be over looked. It is a necessity. People converge upon cities like Sanaa and other crucial economic centers to the point of saturation. Sanaa is especially prone to the problem of over-population. But if the people of Yemen could have a fast link to the major economic centers, then maybe they wouldn’t over burden them. If a railway wound its way through Yemen from one important center to another, then maybe the country wouldn’t look so impossible to explore for potential industry. Yemen is full of wonderful and hard working individuals who are too proud to back down in times of economic hardship. So these individuals would benefit from companies that would have easier access to Yemen. India has long been a center of textile exporters. Yemen could become the next center of this ever-thriving industry. 
The goods could be made in more rural areas and quickly shipped throughout the region. Yemen is in a very special place in the world. It is at the base of the Arabian continent, just a sea away from Africa, close to Persia and the Asian continent. With these large regions so close and having access to a few major bodies of water, Yemen has major trade route potential. All that land wasted on Qat could be put to better use. Newer crops developed around the world could be farmed on these lands. Some regions of Yemen are claimed to be too highly elevated, too dry or any other excuse, but modern science has helped the farming industry. There are better options for farmers today then there were even 10 years ago. I had a silly idea about 4 years ago while in Yemen. I see so many chickens being hawked for sale in the streets. They are fairly small amounts of meat. Many families fill up on things like Aseed, which I do not feel, is nutritional enough for smaller kids. But my idea was simple- why not begin a turkey farm? Sounds weird right? Have you ever seen just how large a turkey grows? How much meat can come from one of those? And one cannot say a turkey eats too much. It is still only a bird. You see, although the idea is a small one, it could provide a source of food and money. I know many will think that is a silly idea, but one idea is better than none. And sadly Yemen is lacking in the ideas department because of an overall lack of hope for the future. 
When I arrived in Yemen last time, the riyal was 85 to $1 US. Now it has doubled. Other ideas that I have had have only been laughed at. Here in America, if you want your community to look nice you clean it up. A clean environment makes people feel better and have pride. I do not ask my government to pay me to pick up the trash in front of my house on the street. I do it for a nice place to live. Why can’t the citizens of Yemen do the same? I was saddened at the sight of the trash all over the streets. Small children were running all over the neighborhood where we lived amid all the trash. Some picked up bits of it and made toys with it. I pride them for their imagination, but am sickened by the fact that their playground is nothing more than a dump. In order for all of Yemen to have a better standard of living they must start at ground zero. Cleaning their neighborhoods and streets. Using precious land to grow healthy foods instead of Qat. 
Making education a priority over the military. Encouraging local communities to start some kind of industry. Even in the poorest regions of the world, small groups make things like baskets, textiles, rugs, sell produce, even make things for tourists, so they can generate some kind of money. This kind of thing would really teach the younger generation the value of hard work and give them hope that not all is lost in Yemen today. The whole country should band together to make a better environment for tourism, because that may be the first step in getting Yemen back into shape before it is too late. Places like Egypt prosper from tourism. Yemen has as many great sites to see and more local history than most nations will ever have. If all Yemenis want to prosper and get out of this depressing state it is currently in, then all Yemeni’s must strive to make Yemen a more inviting place- for themselves, tourists and potential investors. Yemen is the most amazing place, lets all help make it a better place to live or visit. We cannot just sit idly by waiting for the government to “fix it”. All Yemeni’s must put in their two cents worth. A little national pride never hurt anyone. Then all we can do is pray that the government does their part, especially to draw potential investors to Yemen. 
Amy Marilyn Watts