Climate Refugees

Spotlight: Yemen

Yemen, located on the Arabian Peninsula, has a predominantly arid climate. The country is already struggling with the irreparable impacts of the climate crisis that are contributing to increased drought, flooding, disease outbreaks, pests, changes in rainfall, and storm severity and frequency, as well as sea-level rise and desertification.89 These changes are interacting with local social and political dynamics.

Starting in 2015, the country has been embroiled in an armed conflict between the local Houthi militias and the Saudi-led foreign coalition that supports the Yemeni government.90 The Saudi-led coalition, along with additional support from the Emirati government, has contributed to the tremendous suffering of the Yemeni people and destruction of their country. The protracted armed conflict has contributed to the mass displacement of civilians both inside and outside the country, and 24 million people, an estimated 80 percent of the population, are in need of humanitarian aid and protection.91

In conjunction with armed conflict and foreign military intervention, the climate crisis is causing immense displacement and damages. In 2015, 56,000 people were displaced by Cyclones Megh and Chapala, which in the span of two days unleashed the equivalent of five years of rainfall in Hadramaut, Sahbwa, and Socotra governorates of Yemen.92 The cyclones ravaged the infrastructure of the island of Socotra, considered the “Galapagos of the Indian Ocean,” and one-third of the population was displaced amounting to 18,000 people.93 The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre estimates that over 14,600 people will be at future risk of displacement due to earthquakes, and that over 11,800 people will be at future risk of displacement due to severe flooding.94

With Yemen embroiled in armed conflict, the country is unable to address the consequences of climate crisis-related issues.95 For example, the water and sanitation infrastructure of the country remain critically underdeveloped. The mismanagement of water resources—whereby roughly 90 percent of the country’s groundwater is applied to irrigate agriculture96—combined with conflict, the climate crisis-exacerbated droughts, and an increasingly hot and arid climate are driving water insecurity in Yemen.97 What’s more, Yemen is at risk of saltwater intrusion into its aquifers as a result of sea-level rise and the overexploitation of the country’s groundwater resources.98 Threats of rising sea-level are expected to accelerate coastal erosion, endanger marine ecosystems and wetlands, devastate coastal infrastructure, contaminate soil, and forcibly relocate entire communities.99 With diminishing coastal ecosystems, the fishing industry, and those whose livelihoods depend on fish for survival, will become increasingly vulnerable.100

Flooding is the most important and frequent form of natural disasters in Yemen, and the damages inflicted by flooding are predicted to increase over the coming years.101 Increased rainfall is predicted for some parts in Yemen, which could elevate the intensity and frequency of floods, while other areas of the country are expected to have less rainfall, which will intensify the severity and length of droughts102 and reduce water flow to replenish the country’s already-strained rivers and aquifers.103

Desertification is another critical and ongoing climate challenge and is expected to increase annually by 3 to 5 percent, which negatively affects agricultural and food production104 and the overall availability of arable land.105 Additionally, heavy sandstorms destroy 20 percent of the country’s arable land and contribute to soil erosion and ruin crops.106 An estimated 20 million Yemenis are food insecure, including 10 million who are suffering from extreme hunger.107 As rainfall has decreased in recent years, harvests have become shorter, yielding less food, and those living in rural villages who rely on subsistence farming have very little food that can be stored to survive during times of conflict, which has been an incessant reality for Yemenis.108

The current armed conflict and foreign military intervention in Yemen is hindering the advancement of any climate relevant projects and initiatives, as the government prioritizes resources to support humanitarian aid efforts.109 Yemen’s National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) of 2009 has identified key opportunities to combat the climate crisis and to develop projects to address adverse climate impacts in vulnerable sectors including water resources, agriculture, and coastal zones.110 However, resulting from a lack of viable data and political instability, the initiatives outlined in NAPA have not been a priority.111 Yemen has ratified the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in 2005, the UNFCCC, the Kyoto Protocol, and the Convention to Combat Desertification, yet the government did not establish a National Plan of Action.112 In 2016, Yemen signed the Paris Agreement but has not ratified the agreement.

  • 89. “Yemen National Adaptation Programme of Action,” UN Development Programme: Climate Change Adaptation, https://www.adaptation-undp.org/projects/ yemen-national-adaptation-programme-action-napa.
  • 90. “Yemen crisis: Why is there a war?” BBC News, (March 21, 2019), https://www.bbc.com/news/worldmiddle-east-29319423
  • 91. “About OCHA Yemen,” UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, accessed June 5, 2019, https://www.unocha.org/yemen/about-ocha-yemen.
  • 92. “Yemen,” Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, accessed June 5, 2019, http://www.internal-displacement.org/countries/yemen.
  • 93. Leon McCarron, “Can Socotra, Yemen’s ‘Dragon’s Blood Island,’ be saved?” National Geographic, (November 13, 2018), https://www.nationalgeographic.com/ environment/2018/11/socotra-yemen-biodiversity-photography/
  • 94. Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, “Yemen”.
  • 95. Austin Bodetti, “The dangers of war and climate change in Yemen,” The New Arab, (April 17, 2019), accessed Sept. 17, 2019, https://www.alaraby.co.uk/ english/indepth/2019/4/17/climate-change-and-theyemeni-civil-war
  • 96. 2019 Humanitarian Needs Overview: Yemen, reliefweb, (2018), 36, accessed on April 3, 2019, https:// reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/2019_ Yemen_HNO_FINAL.pdf
  • 97. Colin Douglas, “A Storm Without Rain: Yemen, Water, Climate Change, and Conflict,” The Center for Climate & Security: Exploring The Security Risks of Climate Change, (August 3, 2016), https://climateandsecurity. org/2016/08/03/a-storm-without-rain-yemen-waterclimate-change-and-conflict/#_ednref28.
  • 98. Climate Change Profile: Yemen, (The Netherlands: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, 2018), 5, accessed on April 3, 2019, https://reliefweb.int/sites/ reliefweb.int/files/resources/Yemen_2.pdf.
  • 99. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, Climate Change Profile: Yemen, 4.
  • 100. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, Climate Change Profile: Yemen, 5.
  • 101. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, Climate Change Profile: Yemen, 4.
  • 102. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, Climate Change Profile: Yemen, 4.
  • 103. Michael Cruickshank, “Yemen is on the verge of running out of water: In Yemen, climate-driven war is a deadly reality,” ThinkProgress, (March 13, 2017), https:// thinkprogress.org/yemen-humanitarian-crisis-water-54a9c0b52831/
  • 104. The creation of private wells in water-scarce areas is exacerbating the process of desertification, as drilling to access the underground aquifers goes unregulated. Ali Abulohoom, “Desertification a threat to millions of Yemenis,” reliefweb, (July 1, 2014), https://reliefweb.int/ report/yemen/desertification-threat-millions-yemenis.
  • 105. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, Climate Change Profile: Yemen, 4.
  • 106. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, Climate Change Profile: Yemen, 4.
  • 107. Reliefweb, 2019 Humanitarian Needs Overview: Yemen, 4.
  • 108. Iona Craig, “‘Before I had everything to eat. Now it’s one bite’: Yemenis’ struggle for survival,” The Guardian, (November 25, 2017), https://www.theguardian. com/world/2017/nov/26/yemen-daily-struggle-for-survival-behind-divided-lines
  • 109. National Adaption Programme of Action, Republic of Yemen Environment Protection Authority (n.d.), https://www.adaptation-undp.org/sites/default/files/ downloads/yemen_napa.pdf.
  • 110. Republic of Yemen Environment Protection Authority, National Adaption Programme of Action.
  • 111. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, Climate Change Profile: Yemen, 7.
  • 112. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, Climate Change Profile: Yemen, 6.