"We are scared the country will become a desert," Yemen's forests are next casualty of war
Khaled Abdullah
Updated 24 August
21 images
Yemeni lumberjack Ali al-Emadi (pictured below) spends hours chopping down an acacia tree with an axe as his 12-year-old nephew helps out splitting logs.
In a country blighted by war, Emadi had to turn to logging in his northern al-Mahweet region to eke out a living. An economic collapse has wiped out the farming and building work he used to travel around the country for.
Emadi and his nephew split firewood with axes at their village in Khamis Banisaad district.
But with demand for firewood soaring due to fuel shortages, there are now concerns that the country's humanitarian crisis, with millions facing starvation, has compounded the risk of deforestation - threatening both the environment of Yemen and any hope of a long-term livelihood for men like Emadi.
"The owners of bakeries ... use wood and stone to heat their ovens. In the past, they used to use gas, but now there is only wood," Emadi said.
"Should there be good quantity of wood available, we make a living, thank God. But nowadays trees are scarce," the father of seven said. "If I get something, we eat. At least we live or die together."
A vendor carries wood at a firewood market in Sanaa.
More than six years of war between the recognised government backed by a Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi movement aligned with Iran has killed tens of thousands of people and left 80% of Yemen's population reliant on aid.
The fuel shortages due to a coalition blockade on Houthi-held areas, including limiting access to the main port of Hodeidah, have led businesses and families to swap diesel and gas for firewood. The alliance says the blockade is needed to foil arms smuggling.
A boy rides a donkey as it drags a logged tree in Bajil district.
Around 886,000 trees are felled annually to feed bakeries and restaurants in the capital Sanaa alone, said Abdullah Abul-Futuh, head of biodiversity and natural reserves at Yemen's Environment Protection Authority in the city, which is run by Houthi authorities along with most of northern Yemen.
Some 5 million trees have been cut down over the past three years across the north, he said.
Lumberjacks load bundles of firewood onto a truck in Khamis Banisaad district.
"That is the equivalent of 213 square km (82 sq miles) of forests, knowing that only 3.3% of Yemen's total area is classified as forests," Abul-Futuh said.
The authority could not provide comparative figures, saying this was a recent phenomenon.
Lumberjacks use an electric saw to cut a tree in Khamis Banisaad district.
After gas was discovered in the Marib region in the 1980s, wood cutting became limited to remote areas but the war has choked Yemen's energy output, forcing a reliance first on imports and now on wood from trees more usually used to build homes.
Yemen has few woodlands but a relatively rich variety of flora in the oil-producing Arabian Peninsula desert region. In al-Mahweet, known for its thick canopies, several types of acacia, cedar and spruce are vanishing.
A vendor waits for customers at a firewood market in Sanaa.
Lumberjacks who have the means buy an acacia tree from land owners for the equivalent of around $100 and then sell logs to traders who send them to the cities.
A 5-tonne truck loaded with logs nets the equivalent of $300-$700 in Sanaa, depending on the wood and haulage distance.
Sulaiman Jubran, a lumberjack, uses an axe to cut a tree in Khamis Banisaad district.
"Demand depends on the number of fuel ships that make it to Hodeidah port. These days it (demand) is very high," said logger Sulaiman Jubran, who scratches a living selling firewood to visiting traders.
"We are scared the country will become a desert, it is already happening ... you no longer see the trees that once covered the mountains," he said.
A lumberjack carries firewood bundles on a motorcycle in Bajil district.
Forests are largely privately owned and poor families were traditionally allowed to chop wood for free as long as they only cut branches and spared the trunks for regeneration.
"Now, we uproot them with mattocks (pickaxe) .. nothing is left," Emadi said.
Photo editing Kezia Levitas; Writing Ghaida Ghantous; Text editing Alison Williams; Layout Julia Dalrymple
1 / 12

Free drinking water is hung on a tree.
More from
Khaled Abdullah
Subscribe to the week’s best stories
Nigeria's hyena men put maligned animals centre stage
London's dark river and its secrets
Tokyo 2020 Olympics: From the sidelines
More Stories
Senegalese plant circular gardens in Green Wall defence against desert
Boki Diawe
Grim aftermath of Ethiopian battle offers rare clues of brutal war
Editor’s choice
Reuters photographer Danish Siddiqui captured the people behind the story
Shah Porir Dwip
Editor’s choice
The Tenacious Unicorn Ranch made a transgender haven. Then the violent threats began
Editor’s choice
Volunteer undertakers bear the dead from Indonesian homes as COVID deaths rise
Scholar by day, street-sweeper by night, one Black man navigates Rio's racial divide
Belford Roxo
In a scarred Hong Kong, “beautiful things are gone”
Hong Kong
Postcards from Tokyo: light and shadow ahead of pandemic Olympics
Editor’s choice
In China's new Xinjiang: patriotic tourism, police and propaganda
Temptation everywhere: Mexican children struggle with obesity
Mexico City
Mining tin from the sea
Witnessing COVID chaos in India’s hospitals, graveyards and crematoriums
Danish Siddiqui in New Delhi
Back to Top
We have updated our Privacy Statement. Before you continue, please read our new
Privacy Statement and familiarize yourself with the terms.
Follow UsLike UsFind Us Editor's Choice Interactive Behind the News Cultural Atlas Forces of Industry Living Planet Moment of History Perspective Shifting Society Tales of the Unexpected StoriesPhotographers Latest In a French migrant camp, a man sells sandwiches to raise smugglers' fee Recommended Valley of the scarecrows Follow UsLike UsFind UsSubscribeiPad AppAboutFAQsContactRSSBack to reuters.com