Ramadan in Yemen is Miserable and it’s Getting Worse

Yemen, Oxfam, drought, desertification, food scarcity, Ramadan, heat, global warmingYemen isn’t as hot as Saudi, but the temperatures this Ramadan have been high enough to make waiting out the long daylight hours without food and drink very, very hard. But that’s not the worst of the country’s troubles.

Such spirutally-motivated hunger and thirst would be bearable if families had some nice dates and juice to look forward to at Iftar. But that’s not the case either. Unlike Emiratis, who cause traffic accidents in their haste to get home to break the fast, Yemenites aren’t producing any food waste this Ramadan. Instead, as many as 10 million people in the country are going hungry and five million are in dire straits.

Global warming and Ramadan

It’s probably taboo to say this but I’ve thought it at least a dozen times in the last few weeks: how will Muslims – particularly in less-developed countries – survive Ramadan in the coming decades?

There are so many reasons fasting for a month will become even more difficult: temperature spikes as a result of human-induced global warming, drought, dwindling fresh water supplies, and greater food insecurity for all of these reasons coupled with population growth.

At the moment, according to former BBC reporter Caroline Gluck, there’s plenty of food in Yemen. The trouble is, nobody has the money to buy it. And those who are buying are typically doing so on credit. The sellers are doing the same, dreading the day that the bigger guy wants to cash in on all these sales.

Each month, families are spending on average about $139 they don’t have. That may not seem like a lot for those of us who spend at least as much to keep our caffeine withdrawal symptoms at bay, but for people who have many open mouths to feed and no work, that’s a lot of money. And it pays for the barest of bare minimums.

We’re talking bread and tea and not a lot more.

Taking the heat

Gluck now works for Oxfam, an international aid organization that has dispersed cash to 100,000 Yemenite families so they can afford to buy groceries. This strategy is better than handing out food packages because it keeps the current commercial system afloat, whereas dropping food from the sky undermines local merchants and creates an unhealthy dependency.

But Oxfam is struggling to keep people alive, and it’s outrageous to suggest they should be expected to save the world’s hungry alone.

We aren’t political analysts, so we can’t in good faith offer wider explanations for the governmental failures that have culminated in this terrible state of affairs, but we can say that ecologically-speaking, Yemen is among the most unbalanced countries in the region.

Because of a longstanding addiction to khat and general mismanagement of natural resources, Yemen has to import about 90% of its food. A great majority of the underground aquifers have dried up.  And it’s hotter than … well, you know. Of course, the country’s residents need to learn how to manage their limited natural resources, but the heat is something that can be traced to all of us – from Cape Town to Detroit.

We know now without a shadow of a doubt that the highest temperatures on record are unequivocally related to our insatiable consumption of fossil fuels and meat. We are literally baking, grilling and toasting ourselves – take your pick. And we are doing this with our eyes wide open.

Why on earth would we do something so stupid?


For starters, wealthy nations don’t want to give up their addiction to fossil fuels because that would mean less air-conditioning and fewer fancy cars. And developing countries aren’t willing to give up the dream of having these things, which are so shiny and appealing after all.

And then there’s meat. Giving this up is absolutely out of the question for so many people, even though the global beef industry produces about 80 million metric tons of methane each year – one of the leading causes of global warming.

The United States, China and India produce the most greenhouse gases, but per capita, Gulf nations are among the worst offenders. And in the next 30 years, emissions in the Middle East and North Africa are slated to double.

While we need to acknowledge and adjust our appetite for luxuries, some well-meaning entrepreneurs have attempted to switch to a cleaner, greener economy only to have their efforts thwarted by the likes of  Exxon and Shell, along with other energy companies. Even now.

No matter how many Greenland glaciers melt or how many wildfires engulf the United States, we keep marching down this perilous path. And – as always – the poor suffer first. In Yemen, the Horn of Africa, or in Gaza.

Most of the time I try to bring you happy news, make your day better and brighter. I like pointing out good deeds, because there are a lot of good people in the world.

There are good guys

We have The Moneyless Man and Bill McKibben, we have Carboun and Save the Grace from Lebanon – all of whom, in their own special way, are trying to make up for the bad behavior of the planet’s douche bags.

But every so often when I’m filtering bad news like a baleen whale, I grow so frustrated by our collective shortsightedness that I feel compelled to deliver a healthy dose of reality. And here it is: if Ramadan is hard this year, next year it will be worse. And the years following even more so. And this is our fault.

It’s not too late to change the course that we have set for ourselves. If we radically alter our behavior now and quit fossil fuels, we will be OK. But I’m serious when I say that we need to take drastic measures now if we want to have any quality of life in the decades to come.

Image courtesy of Oxfam

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8 thoughts on “Ramadan in Yemen is Miserable and it’s Getting Worse”

  1. But nobody has the money to buy it. And those who are buying are typically doing so on credit. The sellers are doing the same, dreading the day that the bigger guy wants to cash in on all these sales.

  2. Someone in US pour their food into river, while someone wait for food. This is the same earth we live, this is something we need to feel shame.

  3. Huda Abukhoti says:

    See, the problem here isn’t in the heat nor the fasting, because even if there is no Ramadan, and they can’t afford buying food or getting clean water, then really it is the same situation.
    The thing that needs to be addressed the most is poverty, and improper housing that can’t protect them from the harsh climate. The number of the people is huge! It can’t be solved by charity alone or occasional help from outside, they need to be taught of how to start fixing the situation permanently themselves by planting vegetation and building good earth houses for a start, otherwise the solution will be temporary and soon they’ll go back to the same miserable life.

  4. Ra'anan says:

    Yemenites dug up their food gardens to replant w/qat & get their qat high off from afternoon until evening. The writing was on the wall. You can’t EAT qat. Maybe they should dig up some of their qat & plant something like the “Victory Gardens” that Americans planted during WWII when there were food shortages. Planting shade trees would also help bring temperatures down & Saudi Arabia’s grand solar energy plan is really maybe the strongest move in the right direction.

  5. Anon says:

    I also forgot to add: nature needs more space than we do. We are one species, yet we take up majority of the land-space on Earth. Nature requires big, open and uninterrupted open air, sea, and land to replenish itself, remove and recycle waste and toxins; moreover, wild animals need open and uninterrupted land to breed, roam, and hunt/feed. None of these things are currently being afforded, except in extremely rare cases, and then only for certain species/tracts of land.

    I’d like to reiterate: a person is not just the space he/she physically takes up – a person is the resources and land needed to feed and clothe them, allow them to work, roam, enjoy leisure and/or spiritual activities. People often forget this when talking about the population problem.

  6. Anon says:

    Your article is somewhat misguided, and worse, misleading. Global warming is one tiny sub-issue of a much larger problem: human expansion and encroachment on earth.

    People who do want to face the REAL environmental – human overpopulation – like to tout global warming as the be-all end-all of environmental issues.

    Suppose everyone agreed to get rid of global warming tomorrow – how do you think we would achieve it? Cutting down on a first-world lifestyle by buying “green” products, using public transport/non-motorized transport, etc, would have very little impact because:

    a) people still need to eat, sleep, produce waste, partake in leisure activities, etc. – this requires natural resources, and moreover, more land space per person than you would think

    b) times the amount of land space and resources needed for a) by about, say, seven billion

    c) the rate of many human populations is not exactly decreasing, so the problem is only getting worse

    Until we address these, suggestions such as giving up meat are not even band-aid solutions – they will not reduce carbon-levels by much, and if they do, it is not clear this will have a significant effect on global temperatures, and even if they do, this will not solve the wider problem of overpopulation

    1. Thanks Anon. Overpopulation is definitely another factor contributing to our many woes.

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