Yemen’s climate crisis is threatening lives, livelihoods and culture

Yemen is facing one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. 7 years since a serious escalation in the conflict began, the situation in the country is becoming increasingly desperate.

Almost 400,000 people are estimated to have died and more than 21 million people need humanitarian aid. Hunger is widespread and aggravated by economic collapse, with millions unsure where their next meal is coming from.

Along with Yemen’s people, its environment is also suffering the effects of the prolonged crisis. Yemen was already at risk of flooding, drought and heavy sandstorms, but further damage is being wrought by a surge in deforestation and desertification driven by the crisis.

Increasing demand for wood

Severe fuel shortages resulting from a blockade of Houthi-controlled areas and restrictions on imports into Al Hodeidah port have forced people and businesses to chop down trees for firewood. More than 5 million trees have been cut down since 2018 – with more than 889,000 felled annually to fuel bakeries and restaurants in the capital, Sana’a, alone.

The increasing demand for wood has prompted a wave of deforestation, the effects of which are likely to be devastating to Yemen’s long-term development. The demand, coupled with high unemployment, has seen some former farmers whose land is no longer arable turn to logging to support themselves.

Yemenis’ homes and livelihoods are not the only things being lost through climate change. The crisis has led to neglect of the delicate terraced agricultural systems used for millennia as a source of food and livelihoods in the mountainous country. This, combined with extreme weather events, threatens the existence of this way of life.

“Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time and often those who have contributed least bear the brunt of its ill effects. Yemen is no exception. Climate change is worsening the humanitarian crisis in the country,” Islamic Relief Yemen’s Ammar Abdulbaset Nagi Aldumini says.

“We have heard from people trying to make a living out of selling firewood because they have no other source of income but the damage this is causing to Yemen’s landscape is profound. Without arable land and agriculture, more people will lose their livelihoods and be pushed into food insecurity and any efforts towards long-term recovery will be seriously hampered.

“To halt deforestation, an end to the ongoing conflict first must be agreed by all parties involved. An enduring end to the conflict will allow Yemenis to access the fuel they need – only then can Yemen be in a position to take measures to support agricultural production and reduce poverty.”

Islamic Relief in Yemen

Islamic Relief has been working in Yemen since 1998. We significantly strengthened our programmes in the country following the escalation in the crisis in 2015.

Working with the World Food Programme (WFP), we distribute food and cash vouchers to vulnerable people, including internally displaced persons.

We support health facilities to provide care and education to fight dangerous diseases like Covid-19 and cholera. Since the pandemic began, Islamic Relief has supplied medicine and equipment, including ventilators, to isolation centres in Yemen.

Protection measures for forests and woodland have been abandoned and habitat loss has forced some birds and other species to migrate.

Climate and food insecurity

Deforestation and desertification compound the already devastating issue of food insecurity in Yemen, erasing what was once agricultural land and depleting sources of safe drinking water.

Millions of people are on the brink of famine and malnutrition is rife. Many families do not know where their next meal is coming from.

People and cattle are at risk of dying from the lack of water and fodder across Yemen, and the shrinking coverage of arable land also strips those reliant on it of a stable means of supporting themselves and their families. 75% of Yemen’s population live in rural settings and rely heavily on stable climate conditions to maintain their livelihoods.

Without this, households and communities are forced to relocate, adding to what is already one of the world’s largest internal displacements.

Islamic Relief works to provide access to clean drinking water and supports families and communities during the cold winter months by supplying food, fuel and blankets.

During Ramadan, we distribute food packages to help people in need break their fast. We also provide qurbani meat parcels to celebrate Eid al-Adha.

Children are facing extreme hardship in Yemen and one of the ways that Islamic Relief supports them is through our orphan sponsorship programme, which works with thousands of children in the country.

The people of Yemen need your support now more than ever. Please help Islamic Relief to continue our life-saving work in Yemen. Donate now.