Children collecting drinking water from a public pump in Sanaa, North Yemen (Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images)

Climate Change Impacts and Vulnerabilities in Yemen


Sun, 06-11-2022 06:04 PM, Aden

Ahmed Bahakim (South24)


Climate change is an obvious phenomenon that threatens Yemen and its local populations, biological systems, and natural resources, according to policy papers and technical assessments produced in the context of the issue. Environmental officials in Yemen have been warning about the country's vulnerability to climate change-related effects such as drought, extreme flooding, pests, sudden disease outbreaks, changes in rainfall patterns, increased storm frequency as well as severity, and sea level rise for more than a decade. Yemen is one of the least developed countries in the world.

Yemen's rural areas, seasonal rain-fed agriculture is the major source of income, making the population very dependent on good meteorological circumstances. For their families' food needs and as a source of money, locals in inland areas keep animals and grow crops, either directly via farming or indirectly through trading in agricultural goods. Residents in coastal areas rely largely on marine resources for their livelihoods, particularly those related to fishing.

With five primary biological zones: the coastal plain, temperate highlands, high plateaus, inner desert, and the islands archipelago, Yemen has a semiarid to arid tropical climate. Yemen's annual average temperature is 23.4°C. The coastal plain often has less than 50 mm of annual rainfall, which keeps it hot and dry. The hot, dry summer months of June through September are often affected by the recent declines in annual rainfall in several areas. The northeastern plain of Yemen is mostly desert.

On the other hand, the high plateaus get 100–600mm of rain every year. The high plateaus typically experience warm, dry summers and frigid, below-zero winters that can sometimes occur. The seasons are determined by monsoon climatic patterns, with summer (June–September) and winter (December–March) correlating to various monsoon seasons. Autumn (October–November) and spring (April–May) are the transitional times that set the seasons apart.

Impacts of climate change interact with and have the potential to exacerbate Yemen's problems with political fiction, food insecurity, high water stress, and economic underdevelopment. Recent years have seen a lot of droughts, which has made food scarcer. Increased heat, severe weather, and sea level rise are anticipated to increase water scarcity, threaten food security, and harm coastal regions. Yemen is greatly disadvantaged as it deals with the effects of climate change because to ongoing violence, inadequate government, and a lack of sufficient environmental management regulations, among other things.


Habitat and water resources

Yemen has been dealing with water stress for years, with catastrophic floods and droughts occurring all around the nation. In stream beds, around 6% of Yemen's rainfall evaporates as surface water. Due to excessive groundwater extraction, which causes saltwater intrusion in coastal regions, it has severe water shortages. According to estimates, 93% of the surface and groundwater resources are used by agriculture. The water balance has been impacted, nevertheless, by sharp increases in water abstraction and usage. Groundwater overdraft is now occurring at a pace that is twice as fast as recharge, and this rate is rising. This causes depletion of water supplies, inequality, and shortages, all of which have detrimental socioeconomic effects. Since a decade ago, reforms have been implemented to address the water crisis, yet the rate of overdrafts has not decreased. Yemen is already mostly a desert country, and desertification and evapotranspiration have made the situation worse. Due to groundwater extraction, Yemen's water table is currently dropping 2–7 meters per year, which is shocking.

Yemen's groundwater resources are expected to be nearly depleted independent of climate change, leading to a 40% decrease in agricultural production, according to study by the World Bank. Significant variations in rainfall distribution will result in more droughts or floods depending on the amount, consistency, and frequency of rainfall in the area.

Investments in climate change adaptation include effective irrigation systems, instruction on harvesting methods, and crop rotation strategies. If Yemen intends to mitigate its present water problem, integrated management of water resources at all levels is crucial. A rise in sea levels may cause land erosion, infrastructure damage, coastal mangrove migration, degradation of Yemen's wetlands, and seawater intrusion.

Agriculture Vulnerabilities

The bulk of the workforce in Yemen works in the agriculture industry, which accounts for 11.4% of Yemen's GDP. Cereals, fodder, fruits, vegetables, and legumes are all examples of food crops. Qat and coffee are examples of cash crops, however coffee output has decreased significantly. Small, subsistence farms dominate Yemen's agricultural industry, which uses a terrace system and has a single planting season from July to August. These months can have heavy rainfall, which can create floods that destroys agricultural land and causes soil erosion. The coastal plains and deserts are where agricultural operations are most susceptible to flooding. Other times of the year, dry spells and drought cause desertification, which results in a 3-5 percent of annual loss of agricultural land.

Crop yields have decreased as a result of drought and flooding. Yemen's water shortage remains the biggest barrier to agricultural output, and further depletion of water supplies is predicted to lower it by as much as 40%. In addition, the cultivation of qat, whose leaves have a moderate narcotic effect, takes 38 percent of Yemen's irrigated land and about 40% of its available water resources, further reducing the amount of land suitable for growing food. The effects of climate change on Yemeni agriculture are anticipated to deteriorate overall, particularly as a result of increased rainfall intensity and protracted droughts. However, due to the regional climatic variability in Yemen, the effects of climate change on agriculture would differ depending on the location. For instance, greater temperatures may result in better agricultural yields in the highlands, whereas crop yields in the south are predicted to decline significantly.

Coastal Zones Impacts

Due to rising sea levels and more frequent storm surges, Yemen is especially vulnerable to coastal destruction. Yemen's projected storm surge intensification has the potential to have an impact on more than half of the nation's coastal population, GDP, and land area. Coastal towns may experience greater coastal erosion, saltwater intrusion, more frequent flooding, environmental destruction, mass evictions, and economic instability as a result of rising sea levels. Storm surge intensification may raise mortality in fish species with high commercial value, reducing the 2.4 percent GDP contribution of the fisheries industry and making up to 80,000 fishermen who rely on it more vulnerable.

Protection Vulnerability

There are roughly 250,000 refugees and 3,625,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) in Yemen. IDPs and refugees are two groups of people who are frequently particularly exposed to climatic extremes. This includes flooding incidents, which may swiftly demolish the sparse camp infrastructure, as well as heatwaves, which provide individuals little alternatives for cooling off and finding shelter. For instance, recent floods in 2020 ruined the tents and other belongings in Yemeni refugee camps. In 2013, floods impacted around 8,000 people living in IDP camps in Yemen and ruined local facilities like latrines, schools, and a clinic. These camps may not always be planned with flood risk and/or climate change effects in mind.

People who are in detention frequently have increased vulnerability to natural disasters as a result of: spatial marginalization brought on by the location of prisons on hazard-prone land and/or isolation from emergency evacuation services; limited to no connections to social networks, which are essential components of hazard resilience; and political marginalization, including the absence of policies and services to prevent disaster impacts on imprisoned populations. Due to these vulnerabilities and the increased frequency and severity of catastrophes brought on by climate change, the population of prisons may be particularly vulnerable to dangers like floods and excessive heat.

Policy Context

Yemen agreed to the Paris Agreement in 2016 but has not yet ratified it. Yemen's Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) was reported to the UNFCCC in 2015. The nation's obligations to reducing emissions and adapting to climate change are outlined in this document.

National adaptation priorities outlined in this communication are: 

- Promotion and scale-up of rainwater harvesting to reduce climate induced water shortage.
- Promotion of agriculture drought management as well as sustainable crop and livestock management.
- Plan and implement proper land resources management programs.
- Livelihood approaches for integrating natural resources management and preservation of sensitive ecosystems.
- Disaster risk management including flood and drought management.
- Capacity building for integrated coastal zones and marine resources management.
- Capacity building and awareness raising.
- Institutional capacity for building resilience to climate change including planning, programing, monitoring and resources mobilization.

The NDC also stresses how crucial it is to carry out these priorities in accordance with important national frameworks and policies, such as the National Water Sector Strategy and Investment Plan, the National Agriculture Sector Strategy, and the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, among others. Last but not least, Yemen is obligated in this provision of the NDC to further specify priorities in a National Adaptation Plan. In preparation for the UN Climate Change Conference COP27, which was inaugurated today in Sharm El-Shaikh, Egypt, governments worldwide are now putting together their upcoming NDC submissions to the UNFCCC.

Ahmed Salem Bahakim

Economist and energy researcher 


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