Scorched Earth

Environmental Dimensions of Postcrisis Recovery in Iraq & Yemen


Processes of environmental degradation can exacerbate, prolong, and even spark conflicts.  In Iraq and Yemen, where water and cultivable land are becoming scarce, efforts toward rebuilding these countries will need to factor in a changing climate. Despite their importance, environmental issues are often neglected in post-conflict reconstruction processes. Some of the most sweeping risks—environmental and climate crises—are the most likely to be overlooked because they are “threats without enemies.”

In Iraq, rising temperatures, decreasing rainfall, and frequent drought will put more stress on rain-fed agriculture, while water sources and coastal regions in the south face rising salinity and sharply increased pollution. In Yemen, groundwater reserves are overextracted, as the cultivation of grains has been abandoned in favor of thirstier but more lucrative crops, such as fruit and the stimulant qat. Furthermore, economic and institutional fragility has undercut the country’s capacity to adapt to growing environmental stress that ranges from coastal vulnerability to land degredation.

The broader challenge is to ensure  that  aid  and investments in recovery and development plans align with environmental concerns.  Efforts to address these issues will face differing political, institutional, and security challenges. Nonetheless, it will be important for reconstruction efforts to take into consideration current and future climate risks when rebuilding systems or infrastructure, potentially turning a threat into an opportunity.