Background on Civil War in Yemen 

The country of Yemen has become home to civil war, political instability, famine, and one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world today. The problems began in 2011, when the government of Yemen lead by Ali Abdullah Saleh, refused to transition power to the deputy of the state Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. When Hadi eventually took power, the state was weaker than under Saleh, and he failed to address many issues like jihadist attacks, unemployment, and food insecurity.

In response to the weakness of the state, civil war broke out in 2015 between the Hadi government, and a separatist movement in the south lead by Houthi rebels whom represent the country’s Shia ‘a minority. Since then the fighting has only intensified. It is estimated that as the war approaches the four year mark, over 22 million people—or three-quarters of the population—need urgent humanitarian aid and protection, 2 million people have been displaced, and 8.4 million people are food insecure (UN, 2019). In addition, Yemen is highly vulnerable to climate change-related impacts such as drought, extreme flooding, pests, sudden disease outbreaks, changes of rainfall patterns, increased storm frequency/severity and sea level rise (UNDP, 2012).

Houthi Forces Protest Saudi-led Airstrikes 

(Wikimedia Commons, 2015)

It is estimated that as the war approaches the four year mark, over 22 million people—or three-quarters of the population—need urgent humanitarian aid and protection, 2 million people have been displaced, and 8.4 million people are food insecure (UN, 2019).


Rising Temperatures and Drought 

The western region of Asia, including Yemen, is historically a water-stressed area, and this trend will continue (IPCC, 2014). Countries in this region rely on rainfall for agriculture, and agriculture makes up a significant part of the economy. As the effects of climate change get worse, fresh water availability will be affected by changes in rainfall variability, snowmelt, and glacier retreat (IPCC, 2014). The southwest region of Asia, where Yemen is located will be impacted greatly by drought not only because of its lack of infrastructure since most people there live in suburban settings (IPCC, 2014). The Arabian Peninsula could deplete its water supply due to anthropogenic factors, and expedited climate factors, by 2050 (Mazzoni, 2018). Yemen is especially at risk because of its lack of a renewable water source, or desalination infrastructure (Mazzoni, 2018). Of all the countries in the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen is exploiting their freshwater resources the fastest, is one of the most vulnerable states to climate change, and this change in water recourses will make them become one of the most vulnerable to food insecurity (Mazzoni, 2018).


Yemeni coffee farmer 

(Wikipedia Commons, 2013)

Sea Level Rise 

Warmer temperatures in the 21st century will accelerate the melting of sea ice increasing sea level rise globally (Srivastava et al., 2016). Sea level rise around the Arabian Peninsula is guaranteed, but to know specifically how it is going to affect the region more data needs to be collected (Srivastava et al., 2016).  

Port of Aden, Yemen 

(Wikimedia Commons, 2010)

Increase In Extreme Weather Events 

Warming in the Indian Ocean is increasing the strength and duration of cyclones that reach the Arabian Peninsula. In 2018 alone, three cyclones hit the region generating a combined $1.8 billion USD in damages. An increase in anthropogenic black carbon and sulfate emissions might have led to an increase in storm strength because of a weakening of vertical wind shear (Murakami et al., 2017). There are too many data gaps in radar storm event history for the Arabian Peninsula, but it is evident that storm events are occurring more frequently and stronger (Murakami, 2017). With Climate modeling researchers have predicted that the strength of storm events in the Indian Ocean is increasing, as well as their intensity, but more research needs to be completed to understand the specific details.

Cyclone Chapala 

(Nasa Earth Observatory, 2015)













Food and Water Insecurity 

Food insecurity and economic loss due to drought are very concerning for Yemen’s future. The agricultural sector in Yemen is 70% rainfed is very exposed to climate change (Waha et al., 2017). The agricultural sector in Yemen is critically important to the survival of the country as it is Yemen’s biggest employer (Waha et al., 2017).  If warming globally reaches; 2 °C water in Yemen will drop to a critically low point having major consequences for local food production (Waha et al.,2017) 2 °C will be guaranteed globally if anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions expels 40 more parts per million of CO2 into the atmosphere. 


A consequence of food insecurity that Yemen could face as well is mass migration into urban centers if an agrarian lifestyle is no longer an option. Migration combined with a projected doubling in population by 2070 could overwhelm water and food resources in urban centers leading to an increase in reliance on imports and foreign aid (Waha et al., 2017). If global CO2 emissions are curbed at RCP 2.6 modeled rates, Yemen’s rural economy remained unchanged. If warming continues to RCP 8.5 in the years 2040 and 2080 we can expect migrations to Yemen’s west coast (Waha et al., 2017).

Bab Al Yemen 

(Wikimedia Commons, 2006)


Civil War

Yemen’s vulnerability to climate change is amplified due to civil war, and the resulting humanitarian crisis that has been going on since 2015. The Saudi Arabian lead coalition against the Houthi fighters has targeted many civilians through starvation, and indiscriminate bombing. According to the United Nations, it is estimated that 2/3rds of the population in Yemen needs some kind of humanitarian aid because of the war (UN, 2017). The Civil war is weakening the government, and state operations of the country. Schools have been converted into hospitals, and rebel groups have control of the capital Sana'a. Without the aid of the state, and in the absence of a government structure, implementation to the adaptation to climate change will be very hard.

Lack of Data 

It is clear from the literature that one of Yemen’s biggest vulnerabilities to climate change is lack of data and scientific inquiry. Gaps or lack of data about weather events, precipitation, and temperature were all common in the leading research by both the IPCC and individual scientists. There is a consensus that climate change will have a major impact on the Middle East and Yemen, but many specifics need to be studied to understand specifically how and to what degree. Without a functioning state, the challenge will be even harder, and the burden will be placed on international organizations and non-governmental organizations.

House destroyed by an airstrike in south Sana'a 

(Wikimedia Commons, 2015)


Before the civil war in Yemen, the country had taken steps to address and adapt to threats from climate change. Starting in 2009 The Republic of Yemen applied for a National Adaptation Programme of Action under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change totaling $200,000 to help insolate rural and urban citizens of Yemen from the effects of climate change (UNDP, 2009). In 2015, Yemen filed an Intended Nationally Determined Contributions document under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to address its contribution to addressing the hazards associated with climate change. It was concluded that due to mounting security threats as the civil war intensified, its status as an LDC, weak government, lack of data, lack of technological capacity, and lack of existing adaptive policy made it unlikely that Yemen would be able to be resilient to climate change ( UNFCCC, 2015). Lastly, in 2018 the Environmental Protection Authority lead by Dr. Abdulqade Mohammed Al-Kharraz and Sultan Qaboos University published a Readiness Proposal on behalf of the Republic of Yemen with the Green Climate Fund. The report was extensive and addressed the needs in dollars of the Yemeni government to begin to adapt to climate change. Ultimately it was concluded that the conflict in Yemen was too dangerous for issues to be addressed (Green Climate Fund, 2018). 



There is consensus that climate change will have a major impact on the Middle East and Yemen, but many specifics need to be studied to understand specifically how. Without a functioning state, the challenge will be even harder, and the burden will be placed on international organizations, and non-governmental organizations. Regardless of the civil war and resulting humanitarian crisis in Yemen, the arid climate of the Middle East as a region poses vulnerabilities that will be compounded in unknown ways by climate change and regional instability. Yemen lacks the infrastructure, economy, and government structure to deal with future and current threats making them extremely vulnerable to climate change. While there is little data on how specifically rising sea levels will affect Yemen, its major port city Al Hudaydah where the countries agricultural exports leave the country and humanitarian aid comes in is located at an elevation of just 56ft above sea level. Despite this fact, this question is not posed in research, highlighting again Yemen’s vulnerability to climate change due to knowledge and data gaps. The country needs to do a great deal of research if it wants to successfully adapt to climate change but that cannot happen until the war ends. While the civil war continues in Yemen the country will not be able to adapt or be resilient to climate change.

Yemeni men in Ibb

(Wikimedia Commons, 2010)

About the Author 

Spencer Rundquist graduated from St. Lawrence University in the spring of 2019. He was an Environmental Studies and Government major with a minor in Outdoor Studies. Spencer became interested in the humanitarian crisis in Yemen during the fall of his senior year when he decided to take an Islamic Studies class. 


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