Mapping environmental conflicts and cooperation



Jabal Sabr Mountain Water Conflict in Yemen

Type of conflict sub
Intensity 2
Western Asia
Time 1997 ‐ ongoing
Countries Yemen
Resources Water
Conflict Summary Since 1997, the two villages of Quradah and Al-Marzooh in the Jabal Sabr Mountain are fighting over access to water. Plans for an upstream diversion of a...
Jabal Sabr Mountain Water Conflict in Yemen
Since 1997, the two villages of Quradah and Al-Marzooh in the Jabal Sabr Mountain are fighting over access to water. Plans for an upstream diversion of a spring by one of the villages enraged the other. Destruction of water infrastructures and killings have persisted since then and brought governmental forces on to the scene on several occasions. Their unwanted involvement however led the villagers to fight back. Only after a presidential intervention could the level of violence diminish.
Conceptual Model

Climate Change

Continually decreasing rainfall is adding to Yemen’s water stress.

Intermediary Mechanisms

Water is a vital resource for the 800 villagers of Al-Marzooh for both for the provision of drinking water and the cultivation of qat, which is central to the villager's livelihoods. Due to concerns over access to water, the villagers of Al-Marzooh responded by sabotaging the new project in the village of Quradah.

Fragility and Conflict Risks

Conflict and violence, including the destruction of water infrastructures and killings, have persisted between the two villages since 1997. Governmental interference in the conflict has only exacerbated the violence on the ground and has stirred anti-state grievances.

Climate ChangeEnvironmental ChangeIntermediary MechanismsFragility and Conflict RisksSocial and Economic DriversChanging climate leads to decreased water availability.Infrastructure development changes the allocation of water.Water scarcity undermines water-dependent livelihoods.Livelihood insecurity fuels grievances between groups.Livelihood insecurity leads to growing discontent with the state.A slow change in climatic conditions, particularly temperature and precipitation.Gradual Change in Temperature and/or PrecipitationAn increase in the scarcity of clean water and/or an increased variability in water supply.Increased Water ScarcityConstruction of major infrastructure, such as dams, canals or roads.Infrastructure DevelopmentA threat or destruction of livelihoods dependent on the availability of environmental resources / goods.Livelihood InsecurityNon-violent or violent tensions and conflicts between different societal groups.Grievances between Societal GroupsChallenge to the state's legitimacy, ranging from peaceful protest to violent attempts at overthrowing the government.Anti-State Grievances
Context Factors
  • Water-stressed Area
  • Proliferation of Weapons
  • Weak Institutions
Conflict History

Yemen’s water resources are under extreme stress due to continually decreasing rainfall (McSweeny, New & Lizcano, 2010) and excessive groundwater exploitation (Ward, 2009) and are more and more likely to dry up soon (Boucek, 2009). Concomitant competition over the increasingly scarce resources is rising. Against this backdrop, local conflicts over water proliferate (see: Local Violence over Water Resources in Yemen) – one of which is the dispute between the two villages of Quradah and Al-Marzooh on Jabal Sabr Mountain outside Ta’iz city.

In the Ta’iz region, water has become so scarce that even quantities needed for domestic usage are hardly available; in Ta’iz city, public access to water is reduced to as little as every 45 days (Kasinof, 2009). In the mid-1990s, the village of Quradah renovated its piped water supply system with the aid of governmental funding. The water for its 8,000 inhabitants is supplied from a spring that feeds into a collection tank. However, since that tank is just uphill of the spring supplying Al-Marzooh, its 800 villagers soon got concerned that they would receive less water as a consequence of the new project. The resource is vital both for the provision of drinking water and the cultivation of qat, which is central to the villager's livelihoods.

In response, the villagers of Al-Marzooh hence decided to sabotage the project by blowing up parts of its infrastructure. Subsequent arrests by the police did not halt the vandalism and villagers from Al-Marzooh continued to blow up more installations and equipment after the governor of Ta’iz had ordered to carry on with the project.

State troops subsequently sent in to calm the situation only exacerbated the violence on the ground (Ward, 2009). In Yemen, most people are reluctant towards any outside intervention. This became very obvious in this case where in June 1999 both villages took up arms against the governmental soldiers who in turn attacked Quradah with heavy artillery and rockets, arrested many, and caused hundreds to flee (Al Shoura, 1999 in Ward, 2009). Moreover, over the years temporarily stepped-up security measures, including security check points on the streets and armed patrols, have at times become targeted by the fighting parties. Thus, governmental interference not only contributed to the outbreak of the conflict through their financial support for the renovation plans, it also stirred anti-state grievances among the conflict parties and its military intervention might even have perpetuated the violence.

Therefore, continuance of conflict and violence could not be averted. Having started in 1997, fighting between the two villages has sporadically continued to this day. Throughout the country, it is typical for these kinds of local conflicts to endure for many decades, continually claiming lives of quarrelling civilians. In the dispute between Quradah and Al-Marzooh at least 17 people died and over 100 have been injured so far (Al-Moshki, 2014). Perhaps in contrast to other cases of water conflicts in more tribal areas of Yemen where other historic context factors might play a more important role, this conflict can be comparatively easily traced back to “the very high value that the two communities placed on drinking water [which] made them prepared to resort to violence to defend it” (Ward, 2009).

Resolution Efforts

In response to the violence between villagers, traditional mediation was attempted but proved ineffective in sight of the high tensions revolving around the water sharing problem. Al-Marzooh did not halt its attacks for the time of the mediation process. Nonetheless, a partial success of the process was to get the case to court.

The verdict pronounced in 2003 said that both villages were to share the water from a collective tank, with different ratios. Quradah could connect a 4-inch pipe, and Al-Marzooh a 2-inch pipe with a pro rata reduction in supply in case of shortage (CEDARE, 2006). This judgement was reluctantly accepted and managed to ease the violence between villagers for some time. Not entirely resolved though, the conflict continued to persist and claim lives (Al-Sakkaf, 2013; Al-Yasiri, 2013; Al-Moshki, 2014). Some killings have been followed by arrests and trials, however without being able to stop the conflict.

Local and regional politicians held up their mediation efforts and met with local leaders. Ultimately, a presidential delegation comprising 30 leaders of Ta’iz was sent in by President Hadi. It included a presidential advisor and prominent businessman, as well as a tribal leader Sheikh. They ran meetings with the governor of Ta’iz Shawqi Hayel, local military and security leaders, and with other local figures, after violence had broken out again in 2012. While violence seems to have lessened since, the case is still pending in court as of 2014 and the willingness to cooperate of both villages is rather low.

It can be seriously questioned whether such a high mobilization of outside politicians will be possible for the settlement of every local water conflict of this size.

Intensities & Influences
conflict intensity scale
International / Geopolitical Intensity
Human Suffering

Environmental Influences
Societal Influences

Manifest Crisis
Violent Conflict Yes
Salience within nation Municipal
Mass Displacement None
Cross Border Mass Displacement No
Resolution Success
Reduction in Violence Violence reduced significantly, but did not cede.
Reduction in geographical scope There has been no reduction in geographical scope.
Increased capacity to address grievance in the future There is no increased capacity to address grievances in the future.
Grievance Resolution Grievances have been partially addressed.
Causal Attribution of Decrease in Conflict Intensity Conflict resolution strategies have been clearly responsible for the decrease in conflict intensity.
General opencollapse
Country Data in Comparison
ConflictNoData Created with Sketch.

Participation Conflict Party     Conflict Resolution Facilitator
Quradah villagers
Functional GroupCivil Society
Geographical ScaleInternal Grassroots
Al-Marzooh villagers
Functional GroupCivil Society
Geographical ScaleInternal Grassroots
Ta'iz Governorate
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal Grassroots
Government of Yemen
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Yemeni soldiers and police forces
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Yemeni courts
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Entry Points for Resilience and Peace Building
3 Mediation & arbitration After the case was brought to court, a verdict was pronounced concluding that both villages were to share the water from a collective tank with different ratios. While violence between villagers was reduced for some time, the conflict persisted as the ruling was only reluctantly accepted. Furthermore, local and regional politicians have attempted to mediate between the fighting parties with some success in reducing violence. However, the willingness to cooperate of both villages is still low.
Further Details opencollapse
Conflict Characterization
Character of the contested good Common-pool resource: No one can be excluded from use but the good is depleted.
Structure of decision-making power / interdependence Symmetric: All parties can affect the environmental resource equally.
Broad conflict characterization Resource capture is not present.
Ecological marginalization is not present.
Data of involved Countries
Resources and Materials opencollapse