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Why I'm Going to Yemen

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Following on the heels of the "massive and unprecedented" U.S. drone strikes in Yemen this month, which killed scores of Yemenis, I'm headed there for a week's worth of research. Admittedly, the timing isn't great as al-Qaeda is likely keen to counter the Obama administration's latest maneuver in the restive south.

But before I get into why I'm going, it's worth taking a quick look at America's persistent and highly impersonal pounding of Yemen's countryside with indiscriminate drone strikes. It's impact on the country, as a whole, is profound.

Without question, America's approach is doing much to destabilize this impoverished country, undermine post-dialogue constitutional and election efforts to unify her people, and devastate the local population, 92 percent of which is already suffering Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from U.S. drones strikes.

What a devastating wake America leaving in this country. There are no hearts and minds being won by the White House when 92 percent of Yemen's impacted population has PTSD -- all thanks to America's drones.

In fact, the opposite is happening, as it already happened in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. American aggression is terrorizing, traumatizing, and turning any previous pro-American sentiment into anti-American vitriol.

If the West wants allies in Yemen, it should help lift the nearly 55 percent of its population above the poverty line, or feed the 45 percent living in food insecurity (people who do not know where their next meal is coming from), and ensure it is not the first country or capital to run out of water.

Sana'a, for example, could be out of water in a few years. This is very possible. And if the international community rests on its laurels on this front, any current instability will be far outpaced by a future of unlimited fighting over finite resources.

These are the pressing needs that deserve the international community's attention. America can and must do better, which is why, when I'm in Yemen this month, I will be looking at the pressing challenges facing her people -- whether environmental, socio-economic, or political -- and how the international community can better support Yemenis in addressing these needs.

Perhaps most importantly, I will be researching country-specific nonviolent solutions to violent conflict and documenting ways in which Yemen's government and civil society are already engaging in prevention and identification of the root causes of conflict. At the core of my research is a mission to improve coordination and prevention efforts between Sana'a and the international community.

Given how poorly the U.S. media covers this country's diverse dynamics, and how it regularly defaults to the typical reports of violence and rhetoric, there is much work to be done to educate American policymakers on how U.S. foreign policy can attend to the needs identified by Yemeni government official and nongovernment organizations. If America is genuinely interested in reducing violence in Yemen, it would dig deeper and do due diligence in understanding what's motivating the current civil unrest.

Yemen doesn't have to be the next Afghanistan, as some in Washington have asserted. But to prevent this from happening requires an international commitment to this country that gets out of the sky, away from the cowardly and catastrophic drone strikes, and on the ground solving the pressing problems related to the water and energy crises, persistent poverty and unemployment and growing food insecurity.

Until that happens, I, and many others, will keep pounding the political pavement until policymakers in Washington care enough to change course and countenance this country's real, but solvable, crises. And soon, before Sana'a is sucked dry.

Stay tuned for additional articles after more time on the ground getting a better perspective of the pressing problems.

Michael Shank is the Associate Director for Legislative Affairs at the Friends Committee on National Legislation and Adjunct Faculty at George Mason University's School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution.