Yemen Hopes and Expectations – Part 4: a looming environmental disaster

The unreliable availability of diesel affects deliveries of water and creates additional uncertainty and concern given that water is life. The multiple and unhygienic transfer processes contribute to increasing pollution of the water and consequently the additional risks to the health of users. So access to water has worsened for people throughout the country and this partly explains the increase in cholera cases, as well as of dengue fever and other mosquito transmitted diseases.

On the positive side, there are a couple of points, which hardly compensate for the additional hardship suffered. First the introduction and massive expansion of solar power has also helped in pumping limited amounts of water for domestic purposes and to a lesser extent for irrigation. Similarly the reduced financial and material accessibility to much irrigation pumping, is contributing to conserving the aquifers, but this has only very limited long-term impact on the fundamental scarcity.

The climate crisis

As widely predicted, the climate crisis is particularly acute and noticeable in the poorest countries for the poorest people. Yemen is no exception. Here the issue of successive and nowadays frequent ‘unprecedented’ droughts and floods has accelerated since the war started. After the 2015 rapid succession of considerable destruction and damage by cyclones Chapala (Socotra and Hadramaut) and Megh (further west), the first in living memory, others have taken place almost annually, with Mekunu, Luban and Sagar in 2018, while in 2019 both expected cyclones narrowly missed Yemen, but their outlying areas caused destruction in Socotra and Hadramaut. The more erratic and violent downpours caused floods in January, May, June [affecting 12 governorates], and August.

Other less immediate impacts of the climate crisis are gradually affecting most parts of the country, as soil erosion and desertification are reducing agricultural land at a rate of about 3-5% per annum, in a country where most of the rural population are largely dependent on agriculture and only 3% of the country’s area is suitable for agricultural use. Among the other ongoing environmental issues is the increased salinity of soils and water in coastal areas due to sea water intrusion in the aquifers as well as the impact of rising sea levels in a country which has 3 of its major cities and other important towns on the coast.

Environment and the war economy

Another source of problems for the population and income for war profiteers, is the import and sale of dangerous and illegal agricultural inputs, mainly fertilizers and pest control products. Previously regulated by government, the absence of any sanitary controls at the ports has enabled unscrupulous traders to import chemicals which are banned elsewhere in the world. They buy them cheaply and sell them to farmers, thus indirectly causing major health problems for the population who consume the products, in particular fresh vegetables and fruit, as well as qat.

Fresh foods are rarely adequately washed due to the shortage of water; in any case washing would only help marginally as many of these substances have been proved to be carcinogenic. As a final point, these chemicals poison the soils and water and will affect agriculture in the future.

Conclusion: prospects for the year

Last year has, yet again, demonstrated on numerous occasions Yemeni political leaders’ and decision makers’ utter disregard and indifference to the suffering of the Yemeni population. A few of the thousands of examples have been mentioned in this series of articles. As usual, words fail anyone with any sense of human empathy to adequately condemn their behaviour. Nor is there any indication of change, regardless of how often this is repeated.

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» Yemen Hopes and Expectations – Part 4: a looming environmental disaster | Helen Lackner | Radio Free | https://www.radiofree.org/2020/02/13/yemen-hopes-and-expectations-part-4-a-looming-environmental-disaster/ | 2021-08-04T12:50:00+00:00
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