Could Yemen become one of the wealthiest countries on earth? What do economists think? Is it possible for a Yemen that poor to become a Yemen that rich?
Yemen, dubbed in Arabic “The Blissful”, possesses vast stretches of strategic maritime waters, numerous ports situated along a major international navigation route, and more than 150 islands and archipelagos.
In the Red Sea we find, the port of Mocha. Located near Taiz, it is oldest the port on the Red Sea, not just in Yemen, but also in the Arabian Peninsula.
The name of the port is associated with Yemen’s famous coffee, known universally as mocha, the luxurious aromas of which enticed European powers, such as Britain and Italy, to attempt to occupy the port at the time when it was still under Ottoman rule.
We find the Bab Al-Mandeb, occupying a unique strategic position on the route that connects the countries of the Middle East with Europe. The famous strait enables direct maritime contact between the Gulf and the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal.
There is also the port of Hodeida. Situated in the middle of Yemen’s Red Sea coast, it is the second largest Yemeni port after Aden and occupies a strategic position near vital maritime routes. It is also Hodeida city’s sole maritime outlet.
The port of Saleef, meanwhile, is one of the most strategically important Yemeni ports. Saleef is situated northwest of Hodeida. It is noted for its anchorage depths of up to 50 feet which makes it able to receive giant ships with displacements of up to 55,000 tons.
It now falls under the protection of the UAE.
In the Gulf of Aden we find the port of Aden. One of Yemen’s main ports, strategically located, it is part of the city of Aden and is one of the largest natural ports in the world. In the 1950s it was ranked the world’s second refuelling port after New York.
The port of Balhaf is one of Yemen’s main oil exporting points, located midway between Aden and Mukalla and that serves as the export terminal for the mixed crude from sector 14 in Masila. It is the largest industrial project in the history of Yemen.
The Aden free zone was established in 1993 following the adoption of the free trade zones law in Yemen that eliminated all customs and non-customs restrictions on trade in order to boost volume of trade and spur economic growth.
In the Arabian Sea we find the port of Mukalla, which is one of the most important Yemeni ports on the Arabian Sea and the sole maritime outlet for the governorate of Hadramaut.
It was built in the Khalf area to serve as a multipurpose port to support trade, the fishing industry and the petroleum derivatives from Hadramaut and neighbouring governorates.
The port of Shahr is one of Yemen’s main oil terminals located on Yemen’s southeast coast, it is equipped to load oil freighters with crude for export purposes.
The port of Nashtun in Al-Mahra governorate is near the border with Oman. The port was rehabilitated in 2010. There are reports of Saudi Arabian plans to construct an oil pipeline from Al-Kharkhir in Saudi Arabia near the border with Yemen to Nashtun Port.
The port of Qana (Bir Ali), an ancient port, is located 120 kilometres from Mukalla and 140 kilometres from the administrative capital of Shabwa governorate. It is noted for its anchorage depth and for the surrounding mountain ranges and islands that makes it a safe harbour in stormy weather.
All these ports could draw in billions of dollars, but they are idle and not being put to the service of the Yemeni people. Still economists predict that Yemen will become one of the richest countries in the world because of its wealth in ports, islands and resources.
The port of Aden, if put to use as a nexus of a vital artery of international trade, would reap at least $75 billion and spur the creation of jobs for the Yemeni people.
Hodeida, ranked as the best port on the Red Sea, has the potential to become a transit station along with Saleef and earn $40 billion a year from transit commerce alone.
As for the ports on the Arabian Sea, if developed, they could become among the world’s largest transit stations rivalling those in India and East Asia.
In addition, they could serve as stations for aircraft carriers from all parts of the world and earn $100 billion from this alone. Millions of jobs could be generated directly related to the activities of the Arabian Sea ports.
They could also serve as oil terminals for oil from the Gulf, bypassing the Bab Al-Mandeb, and accrue millions from that as well.
According to the rates in current international agreements, $200 billion could be made from the transport of oil by pipeline between its source and the port and, again, this would generate innumerable jobs.
It should also be added that a massive reserve of oil has been discovered in the area of Al-Jawf near the border with Saudi Arabia. It is estimated to be larger than the fields of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE put together.
This is not to mention Yemen’s many other resources: minerals, water, mines, fish, and of course coffee, which is an excellent source of wealth in its own right.
Yemenis are sitting on abundant untapped prosperity. Are they capable of appreciating this and protecting their nation and the future of its people by choosing leaders with integrity capable of administrating the country well, safeguarding its resources and ensuring justice for all? How can Yemen be among the poorest countries on earth?
* A version of this article appears in print in the 25 October, 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Yemen’s vast potential