Drought in southern Yemen a challenge for farmers

RS359055_Hind - Climate and water scarcity-scr
Hind (not her real name) is a farmer in Lahj governorate in southern Yemen. She says drought has affected her crops and livestock, making it difficult for her family to meet its basic needs. Nada Al Saqqaf/Oxfam

People raising crops and livestock struggle to survive dry conditions in southern Lahj governorate.

Next to a small grove of lemon trees, Hind walks through a field of dead grass. Her fruit trees also appear to be dead – their leaves are brown and what fruit has grown is shriveled and desiccated. The drought that has destroyed her fruit crop has also affected her livestock, which normally would be grazing nearby.

“I used to have 50 goats, but I lost them to drought,” Hind (not her real name) says. As pasture dried up along with her income, she was left with terrible choices. “We could not afford to feed them, so half died, and we had to sell the rest,” she explains. “We couldn't sustain them.”

The drought that has affected Hind’s village in Lahj in southern Yemen coincided with another dire emergency in Yemen – more than eight years of conflict has created a massive displacement of people fleeing the fighting, an economic crisis, and a public health disaster as lack of clean water has led to outbreaks of cholera and other diseases.

While they hope for peace, farmers like Hind continue to struggle to survive. “I am responsible for my family of nine members, ranging from 2 to 50 years old,” she says. Over the past five years, the drought has become more severe for her family. “Our fear was from a decreasing water supply, declining agriculture, and increasing living costs,” she says.

Collecting water, repairing toilets

Lack of pasture and water are a pressing issue in the Radfan district of Lahj governorate, where Hind and her family live. More than 50 percent of the district's wells have run dry in recent years. Working with support from the Dutch Relief Alliance and in partnership with the Solidarity Foundation for Development (SFD) in Lahj, Oxfam implemented a cash-for-work initiative employing 400 people from the district to construct a water barrier/dam to collect rainwater and replenish groundwater. The project is designed to alleviate the water scarcity issues affecting 166,400 individuals in this area of Lahj governorate.

In the same region, Oxfam helped SFD build and repair latrines at nearby schools, and facilitated menstrual hygiene management discussions between students, parents, and teachers. This was to help reduce the absence of girls from school. The facility improvements benefited 27,170 people in two areas of Lahj governorate, including latrine improvements and safe discussion spaces for 866 girls going to three schools. This project was supported by Global Affairs Canada.

Water improvements in Lahj

The conflict in Yemen, which ramped up in 2015, has killed more than 19,000 civilians and has displaced more than 4 million. Two thirds of Yemen’s population (more than 20 million people) are in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam has helped more than 3 million people in Yemen, providing cash to help them cover their immediate needs, sharing information about how to avoid cholera, and helping people start businesses and farming activities to earn a living.

The parties to the conflict in Yemen negotiated a ceasefire but it expired in 2022. Oxfam has been working with our partners in Yemen to advocate for a sustainable peace agreement, and for the voices of women and youth to be heard in peace negotiations.

Helping improve access to water, sanitation at schools, and support for farming will be essential for helping Yemen rebuild when a sustainable peace comes to the country.

"This project is a blessing for us in this dry and challenging environment,” says Mahmood Mohammed, who lives in Lahj. “With over half of our wells dried up, we were in a desperate situation. Building this water barrier was a great happiness to us, like rain after a long drought. It secured water for our farms. It gave us hope that we could continue farming and regain our normal lives.’’

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