From riches to rumbles: Yemen environment crisis

Despite being one of the most resource-rich countries in the region, it finds itself trapped in a distressing paradox

Arhama Siddiqa November 28, 2023
The writer is a LUMS and Warwick alumna and a policy analyst focusing on the MENA region


Yemen has recently captured attention with its declaration of war to support the besieged Gaza Strip. However, this new development highlights a broader issue that Yemen has faced for years – being relegated to the backburner of the international community’s attention, often only being brought into focus when labeled with acts of violence and conflict.

Despite being one of the most resource-rich countries in the region, it finds itself trapped in a distressing paradox: it is also one of the poorest nations globally. This conundrum stems from a combination of factors, including weak governance, political instability and the devastating consequences of prolonged conflict. One of the glaring examples of this paradox is Yemen’s significant oil reserves – export of oil generates the lion’s share of state revenues. Historically, oil has been a valuable asset for many oil-producing nations, leading to economic prosperity and development. However, in Yemen’s case, rather than serving as a catalyst for growth, the country’s oil wealth has been mired in mismanagement, corruption and exploitation. Another sobering example can be found in Yemen’s fisheries sector, which boasts abundant marine resources. The country has a diverse marine ecosystem that is home to various types of fish. However, unregulated and destructive fishing practices, including the use of explosives and unsustainable methods, have depleted fish stocks and disrupted the balance of marine ecosystems.

On the environmental front, one of the most pressing issues is the depletion of water resources. The combination of conflict-induced damage to water infrastructure and unsustainable practices, such as over-pumping from aquifers, has resulted in a severe water crisis. It is estimated that around 18 million Yemenis lack access to safe drinking water. Scarce water resources are further contaminated due to inadequate waste disposal systems and the absence of environmental regulations, exacerbating the risk of waterborne diseases. Uncontrolled deforestation driven by the demand for fuel, as well as the use of explosive weapons in warfare, have caused widespread destruction of forests and biodiversity loss.

Weak governance structures have been a longstanding challenge in Yemen, negatively impacting environmental management. Decades of corruption, political instability and institutional fragility have hindered the country’s ability to develop and implement effective environmental policies. This has allowed environmental exploitation to go unchecked, resulting in irreversible damage to Yemen’s fragile ecosystems. Furthermore, the absence of a functioning state apparatus has hindered the enforcement of regulatory frameworks and accountability mechanisms. Illegal resource extraction, including unregulated fishing and unauthorised logging, has become rampant, leading to significant biodiversity loss and ecological imbalances.

Understanding Yemen’s environmental crisis through a political economy lens unveils the interconnectedness between political power, economic interests and environmental degradation. The exploitation of natural resources, such as oil, minerals and fisheries, provides economic incentives for various armed groups, often leading to unsustainable practices that exacerbate environmental disasters. Furthermore, the revenue generated from resource extraction is frequently diverted towards funding armed conflict, perpetuating the cycle of violence and creating a disincentive to invest in sustainable environmental management strategies. Consequently, weak governance and conflicting political interests have hindered the prioritisation of environmental protection, perpetuating Yemen’s environmental crisis.

It is crucial to recognise that Yemen’s environmental crisis is not isolated from the global context. Climate change, a global challenge affecting the entire planet, intertwines diverse regions and populations. The impacts of climate change in any part of the world cannot be ignored, as they have far-reaching consequences and interconnected effects. Yemen’s environmental crisis serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need for collective action and global solidarity. The upcoming COP28 conference, set to take place in the United Arab Emirates, presents a crucial opportunity for Yemen and the international community to address the country’s environmental crisis and provide Yemen financial aid and technical expertise to rebuild infrastructure, strengthen governance structures and promote sustainable environmental practices. Additionally, a broader dialogue surrounding conflict and environmental degradation must be initiated, highlighting the interconnectedness between peace-building, humanitarian efforts and environmental sustainability.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 28th, 2023.

Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.



Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ