Yemen Crisis: Climate and Water Scarcity

MIDDLE EAST - Despite warning as early as 2015 by the U.N. Security Council over the "deteriorating situation" the Syrian regime under President Bashar al-Assad, his allies and proxies have continuously waged a sustained four-year war in which the populace suffers most. Now, “3.3 million people remain displaced, up from 2.2 million last year, including 685,000 people who fled fighting in Hudaydah and on the west coast, from June onwards.“

Photo: Paul Stephens/ IRIN

Photo: Paul Stephens/IRIN

The Yemeni population has become the latest causality of internecine conflict, international apathy, and political machinations. The civil war waged between Syrian government forces led by President Bashar al-Asaad, and the Houthi insurgents have resulted in massive destabilization and the utter decimation of the countries infrastructure.

The fierce and repetitive bombing of cities and towns has destroyed housing, food stores, and most critically to clean water. As refugee tent cities begin to turn people away due to overcrowding, Yemeni inside and outside of the camps face not only starvation, but affliction from water born diseases such as Typhoid Fever, Cholera, Giardia, Dysentery, E. coli, Hepatitis A, and Salmonella.

United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) issued a report stating “that a total of 17.8 million people lack access to safe water and sanitation and 19.7 million lack access to adequate healthcare” in Yemen. This is an unmitigated blow to a country which was already struggling with rampant unemployment and economic instability which led the country to become labeled as “the poorest county in the Middle East and North African region. Yemen is ranked 178 out of 189 countries on the 2018 UNDP Human Development Index.

In addition to climate change, most acutely felt in the desert and polar regions of the earth, experts have warned that Yemen could be the first country to run out of the water as a consequence of global warming since it has no rivers, rainfall has been decreasing; thus underground aquifers are not being replenished. Even if water were available, the infrastructure to drill and access underground water tables is inaccessible further exacerbating water insecurity.

The average Yemeni has access to only 140 cubic meters of water per year for all uses, (101 gallons per day) while the Middle Eastern average is 1000 m3/yr, and the internationally defined threshold for water stress is 1700 cubic meters per year.”  According to the Yemen news outlet Al-Thawra, increased conflicts are occurring between non-refugee communities fighting over water.

The country's Interior Ministry has estimated that across the country, water and related land disputes kill 4,000 people a year. In essence, Yemeni refugees are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place, and it will require the investment and involvement of the international community, NGOs, and humanitarian agencies to improve their plight. Barring that, highlighting the people’s plight in terms of climate change and the need to improve access to potable water is a start.

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