Fire Sale: Auctioning Yemen's Natural Resources
November 27, 2017
Soaring fuel prices are leading Yemenis to chop down trees, and this is only adding to the humanitarian crisis.
A dentist in Sana’a, Yemen had to repeatedly forbid his neighbor from cutting down a tree on his property. The brewing dispute wasn’t about overhanging branches or a blocked view, however. It was about wood. In Yemen’s capital city, people are chopping down trees from streets and gardens and taking the wood home for fuel.
In late September 2017, Houthi rebels tripled the price of cooking gas in areas under their control, citing critical supply shortages. Because generous government subsidies over decades had cultivated a dependence on cheap gas for heating and cooking, the price surge hit hard, and it pushed poor Yemenis to look for cheap wood.
Now, savvy vendors hawk bundles of firewood at a fifth of the price of a gas cylinder. Sales are booming, but they are exploiting a shrinking asset. Between 2001 and 2012, NASA recorded a 78.5 percent reduction in Yemen’s tree-covered area. That was long before the current conflict. Demand for firewood has increased sharply in Houthi-controlled territory, further accelerating the disappearance of Yemen’s woodland resources.
Currently, 60 percent of Yemenis are food insecure, and 67 percent lack access to clean water. Deforestation makes these problems worse. It increases soil degradation, causes the desertification of agricultural land, and leads to floods and muddied runoff. Chopping down trees helps a family eat a hot meal for a day, but the impact on Yemen’s ecology is long-lasting. The disappearance of Yemen’s trees will only add to the country’s growing humanitarian crisis.
This article is part of the CSIS Middle East Program series Mezze: Assorted Stories from the Middle East. It appeared originally in the CSIS Middle East Program newsletter, Middle East Notes and Comment.