In its report on the climate and conflict in Yemen, the Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) noted that 4,000 people are killed yearly in disputes over land and water.
The report stated that scientists have been discussing the threat posed by climate change in Yemen for decades. One of the most water-poor countries in the world, Yemen is at significant risk of running completely dry, leaving its 30 million inhabitants without water.
In 2010, the World Bank published a paper predicting that Yemen’s groundwater reserves would be depleted between 2030 and 2040, a prediction that remains essentially unchanged.
Ten years later, the Century Foundation published a report stating that, even as the war rages on, “Yemen’s environmental crisis is the biggest risk for its future.”
Although water scarcity in Yemen is a complex problem with multiple causes, climate change has and continues to exacerbate the problem while also contributing to the dire food scarcity and famine experienced throughout the country.
In addition to the threat that climate changes pose to Yemenis’ ability to access water and food, they also threaten to exacerbate the conflict and spark future conflicts due to resource competition and migration.
This phenomenon is already evident in Yemen: the impacts of climate change, combined with the harm warring parties in the current armed conflict have inflicted upon the environment and on critical resources, have contributed to resource scarcity and forced migration across the country, according to the report.
These impacts have increased protection threats, tensions between communities over resources, and outbreaks of violence and local conflicts.
With no sustainable, long-term solutions in place to mitigate the effects of both climate change and environmental destruction, the population of Yemen faces significant risks moving forward “both in their ability to attain needed resources to survive and in the potential for conflict to continue well into the future over increasingly constrained resources.”
The last eight years of conflict have “compounded the impacts of climate change on land, water, and food” through the deterioration of basic government services, blockades by warring parties, direct attacks upon farmland and water sources, and the placement of landmines across vast swaths of agricultural land as well as near and inside of water sources.
The report says that resource mismanagement has been an issue for many decades in Yemen, starting long before the conflict. However, it has been exacerbated by the conflict.
The breakdown of government institutions due to the lack of salary payments since the start of the war has left many government entities either completely shut down or working with minimal resources. Additionally, there are possibly over two million landmines scattered across the country.
The Center discussed the impacts that climate change and the current conflict have had on their access to resources, their livelihoods, and inter- and intra-community relations.
CIVIC found that, combined with the environmental destruction caused by warring parties, climate change is directly correlated to shortages in critical resources, loss of livelihoods, forced migration, and, ultimately, conflict.
Disputes over land and water in Yemen are not a new phenomenon.
The Chief Technical Advisor at the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (UNFAO) in Aden, Walid Saleh, told CIVIC that according to statistics provided by the Ministry of Interior in 2010, “land and water conflict is the second biggest cause of conflict in Yemen… 4,000 people are killed each year in conflicts over land and water.”
The Center asserts that water and land scarcity remain one of the most significant challenges Yemen faces and continue to cause local conflicts across Yemen.
Families fleeing the conflict end up fighting with the host communities over the limited water sources.
Aid workers believe climate change and environmental degradation are having a multiplier effect on conflict drivers and exacerbating protection threats facing civilians, creating a greater risk for ongoing and future conflicts in Yemen.
According to the report, the combined effects of climate change and environmental degradation threaten people in Yemen’s right to life, food, and water, and they are creating civilian protection concerns as conflicts erupt, and individuals are displaced due to the increasing lack of resources.
“It’s a conflict trigger. Even if there’s not a conflict because of climate change, it’s a serious risk for causing future conflict.”
It noted that many living in camps have less access to safe and affordable water and food than their non-displaced counterparts.
The poverty and displacement exacerbated by climate change and environmental degradation have also contributed to child recruitment into armed groups and early marriage, and many children have been forced to drop out of school to support their families.
The Center stated that efforts to end the current conflict and secure sustainable peace are a priority and a necessary first step to ensure the protection of civilians and end the widespread damage caused by the war. It is also required to allocate more resources to rebuilding the country.