Yemeni Women: Enhanced Resilience to Climate Change, Leading Yemen’s Future

After nearly seven years of conflict, Yemen’s devastating situation resulted in what is now described as the world’s worst humanitarian and development crisis.

March 9, 2022

The United Nations estimates that over 20.7 million people in Yemen – 4.6 million women – urgently need some form of assistance (food, water, health, shelter, and more). This also includes 4 million internally-displaced women across Yemen who regularly venture in search of safety and shelter and face increased vulnerabilities and deprivation.

International Women’s Day is when women around the world celebrate their accomplishments that serve to create a more equal world. Despite this, however, women in Yemen are still placed at the bottom of both the Gender Inequality and the World Economic Forum Gender Gap indexes.

Undoubtedly, women and girls in Yemen are hit the hardest by the conflict, with increased impact of displacement, deprivation, and distress. In addition, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the conditions for women and girls who disproportionately face lost livelihoods and unemployment. These compounded crises have further pushed women and girls deeper into extreme poverty and hunger resulting in heightened vulnerability.

A New Threat Hiding in the Shadows

Climate change has severely impacted Yemeni women’s access to water, food, and energy. In a war-consumed country, the negative impact of climate change leaves women prone to the absence of vital resources – particularly for rural women who are almost entirely dependent upon natural and agricultural resources for their livelihood and food. This has exacerbated the already high levels of food insecurity and malnutrition they are experiencing.

Water insecurity is a constant worry for Yemenis, especially women and girls who bear the responsibility of water collection. Many women and young girls walk six or more hours daily to collect water, while others resort to drinking from unclean sources or – if they can afford it – pay high fees to have water delivered. Considerable variations in the seasonal rainfall across the country due to climate change causes erosion and environmental degradation, resulting in the loss of fertile topsoil. This directly impacts the main source of income for rural Yemenis who account for 70 per cent of the country’s 30 million people.

Weathering Hardships

Against these adversities facing Yemeni women, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Yemen has long recognized the key role of women in building climate resilience. UNDP has put women at the heart of response – enabling them to standstill facing the challenges and leading on their local development through community participation in both decision-making and implementation processes.

Leading the Action Coalition on Feminist Action for Climate Justice, UNDP Yemen has reduced and mitigated the gender-related impact of climate change around water, food, and the energy nexus and aligned the contribution of women and men.

As rural communities in water-scarce Yemen rely on seasonal rainfalls, UNDP has sought durable solutions to mitigate and adapt to the negative impacts of water scarcity induced by climate change. As such, we have built rainwater harvesting schemes, irrigation canals and/or networks, and spate irrigation, as well as supported integrated watershed management practices and restoring degraded agricultural lands. In 2021 alone, UNDP Yemen has supported the rehabilitation and maintenance of water and sanitation facilities, in Aden and Mukalla cities that benefited over 130,000 people – 51 per cent of whom are women.

These water interventions have improved women’s access to secure and quality portable water sources. This has also contributed to safeguarding the physical and mental well-being of rural women and girls as they must no longer collect water from distant locations – allowing them to engage in other productive activities.

With the prevailing food insecurity in Yemen, women’s participation is even more crucial to preventing hunger and malnutrition and helps build food security resilience. With 50 per cent women benefiting, UNDP supported the rehabilitation of over 24,000 hectares of agricultural lands. And last year, 750 women farmers were trained on how to use seedlings and fertilizers, as well as productive agriculture inputs.

Building Towards Sustainability

Through the World Bank’s Yemen Emergency Crisis Response Project (YECRP), UNDP has supported the rehabilitation of irrigation channels and agricultural terraces as well as the construction of flood protection walls that benefit nearly 4,000 women. To support food security of vulnerable households, UNDP has also helped nearly 3,100 households to start their own home gardens – benefiting nearly 1,500 women. UNDP also supported over 275,000 women and 404,000 children with cash-for-nutrition services.

Energy is essential for Yemeni women’s daily lives, especially for those whose livelihoods depend upon it – including small women-led food industries. Many women benefited from access to clean energy at health centers, schools, and other public services. The women-led solar micro-grid businesses were established by Supporting Resilient Livelihoods and Food Security in Yemen Progarmme (ERRY II) providing power supply to households and markets – supporting 185,000 households accessing clean energy sources for lighting and other purposes, including 28 per cent women-headed households.

Through the Youth Leadership Programme (YLP), UNDP Yemen invests in young women’s skills and abilities to reduce man-made harm on the environment and promote climate action. Three young Yemeni women innovators and climate change actors were supported by UNDP Yemen to be later nominated to participate in global events to spread the word, including the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) and the 16th UN Climate Change Conference of Youth (COY16), the Regional Women Innovators Programme – as well as a top-three YLP nominee innovator who participated in the Regional Forum of Youth Leadership Programme 7 for her climate change invention.

UNDP will continue enhancing women’s role in mitigating and addressing women vulnerabilities to climate change by adopting an integrated water-food-energy nexus approach to build climate adaptation and resilience, harmonize interventions, and mitigate trade-offs to improve sustainability. While reducing vulnerabilities, enhancing productive roles, and strengthening decision-making chances, women and girls can be leaders in the fight against climate change in Yemen – co-leading the world towards a sustainable future.